“The acknowledgement of duties signifies that the holder of rights recognizes their limited or conditional character.” – Syntopicon I, Chapter 19, The Great Books.
In the last two posts we looked at four general approaches to societal duty. Now I would like to consider and define a more concrete list of duties. The prototype of societal ethics in classical philosophy comes from the stoic tradition most systematically outlined by Cicero in his essay On Moral Duties1, ostensibly a letter written to his son encompassing personal as well as societal ethics. Cicero list includes the following duties:
- Respect the rights of others.
- Observe contracts faithfully.
- Do not mistake the unknown for the known and give it blind assent.
- Do not waste time on barren studies.
- Do no violence except in self-defense.
- Create no privileges in public rights.
- Respect others’ private property.
- Perform acts of kindness.
- Employ your talents, industry, and resources in strengthening the bonds of human society.
- Do not acquire money through unjust means.
- Defend others from injustice.
- Work for the common good.
- Resolve disputes by discussion not force.
- Show beneficence to the worthy.
- Achieve honor in military actions.
- Participate in government when you have the ability.
- Govern without regard to personal interest.
- Maintain decorum, that is steady and consistent demeanor.
- Choose a career that uses your better nature and abilities and persevere.
- Support peaceful and honorable policy.
- Avoid immodesty and that which shocks the eye or ear.
This is still an excellent list even for modern times, but of course society has changed over the millennia and the obligations of living in a modern constitutional republic may justify some modifications.
(continued next post)