First, let's establish some definitions:
Duty - a moral or legal obligation; a responsibility; a task or action that is required by one's job.
Honour - the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right; high respect; great esteem.
Loyalty - a strong feeling of support or allegiance.
Loyalty is worth considering in this context, because we often have a hierarchy of loyalties - to our family, friends, colleagues, company, neighbourhood, city, country, military, clubs, affiliations, etc - that often come into conflict when they are at cross-purposes.
To be dutiful, then, is to recognise that a conflict of loyalties can be overridden by a moral or legal obligation, which is expected to take precedence.
However, the situation is muddied by the addition of the 'legal' obligation, since there are going to be times when something is legal, but considerably amoral (e.g. the Holocaust).
How, then, do we square that circle?
Possibly, "Honour" comes to the rescue. Honour is the most basic of principles to guide behaviour. An honourable person must determine for themselves what is morally right or wrong. If their loyalties are in conflict, asking what is the honourable course of action could be the deciding factor.
But, then, there's the phrase "moral obligation" thrown into the definition of "Duty", so we're back where we started. In other words, 'duty' comes into conflict with 'honour' when we believe that doing our duty will result in something morally reprehensible.
Just to make things more complicated, there is a legal definition, "Duty of Loyalty", which means that it is a company director's fiduciary duty to the company to put the company's requirements over their own personal interests.
So, what we have here is a very complicated web of loyalties and duties that frequently test and define us. The sum total of which determines our Honour. But, is honour absolute, or malleable (like 'the truth')?
Is the honourable thing to do always the right thing - the morally correct thing?
Let's ponder for a moment the Captain of the Titanic, as his ship is sinking. His loyalty is to the company, but it's not unreasonable at this stage to suggest it should be to his colleagues. His duty is to save as many passengers as he can. His honour demands that he go down with the ship.
Does it follow that it would be more honourable of him to go down with his ship, or keep himself alive as long as possible to save as many people as possible - even after the ship sinks?
What do you think...?
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