In the Mahabharata, Yudhisthira exhorts the performance of duty for its own sake. He points out that he does not perform any action with an eye for reward, but because it is his duty to do it. Such view is also noticed in western philosophy, as Kant holds that any act which is done out of any external desire will not be right morally
Basically, duty and right are ethical terms with moral values. These are also being attired in legal frames these days. Very often these two words are used simultaneously to show their contrast and relevance.
The concept of duty has its origin in the Vedas, whereas the use of right seems to have started much later but has been acquiring significant place in different social and political contexts. Its sphere extends from human life to other beings and even to nature.
The idea of duty might have emerged out of sympathy towards those who were being exploited by others. The idea of duty is found in the Vedas with the concept of Rita, which stood for the cosmic physical order of the universe and the moral law in the world. It gradually paved way for the evolution of the notion of Dharma in a fullfledged code of duties through Brahmnas, Dharmasutras and Smritis. Some recent events of my life stirred my mind to think over the origin of the concept of duty. In the last week of October 2020, I got erected a stone piece engraved with the dates of cremation of my parents at the place where they were cremated.
In March 2002, I had helped in getting the library building constructed, which was founded after my grandfather more than six decades ago and handed over the same to a local school. I have a grandson who is three years old, who feels very comfortable with me, as I duly care for him to the best of my physical capacity. I have three younger brothers who never worried about the library building and carving the dates of cremation of our parents. These three happenings forced me to ponder over the question: what I have done and also doing, is it out of my love for them or due to my moral duty towards them? The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary forwards four meanings of the word ‘duty’. The first two are: something that you feel you have to do because it is your moral or legal responsibility and the work that is your job. The first entails a feeling, whereas the second indicates a compulsion. However, there is a difference between an act and a duty. Every act is not a duty, but every duty is an act.
Generally, we perform some act normally; some we perform as a compulsion or as a part of one’s job, and yet some we perform as we should perform. The last is done under moral responsibility, which is, however, not compulsive. The actor has to use his moral sense to decide what he has to do. There is one more kind of action, which we do instinctively, as psychology suggests. An early investigation of emotional behaviour in infants has suggested three emotions present at birth; namely, fear, rage and love. More recent investigation, however, has failed to verify this suggestion.
Animal behaviour also throws some light on the instinct of love. A cow cleans its calf just after its birth with her tongue. If the mother cow is not allowed to clean its calf and the calf is kept separated from her, she does not suckle the calf, as it does not recognise or accept it as her offspring. A bird feeds its offspring with its beak to satisfy the hunger of the young to enable it to survive. It is related to the instinct of love.
The word love has different meanings mentioned in the Oxford Learner’s English Dictionary. It provides six meanings of the word ‘love’. The first is: a strong feeling of deep affection for, especially a member of your family or a friend. ` Sometimes selflove is taken as the basis of love for others.
In the `Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Yajnavalkya tells his wife Maitreyi, “O Maitreyi, the husband is loved by his wife, not for the sake of the husband, but for the sake of her own atman: in the same way, the son is not loved by us for his own sake: we love him for our own sake.” This egocentric view is hardly convincing, as it does not solve my problem. If I go by this logic, I am supposed to love my grandson because I love my son, and I love my son because I love myself. The Geeta adds, “Perform always your duty without regard for the fruits for it is your only concern. In the Mahabharata, Yudhisthira exhorts the performance of duty for its own sake. He points out that he does not perform any action with an eye for reward, but because it is his duty to do it. Such view is also noticed in western philosophy, as Kant holds that any act which is done out of any external desire will not be right morally.
Good will is good only without any condition. He says, ‘There is nothing in the world or outside it which can be called good without qualification except good will. If any act is performed for any desire of object, it is dependent, and any act done only out of pure duty is independent. Good will is like a jewel, which shines by its own light.’ F H Bradley too supports his view through his ethical philosophy of Duty for Duty’s sake.
The theory of ‘Duty for Duty’s sake’ hardly provides any answer to my question. It remains unexplained, as one duty cannot be the cause of another duty. It is a kind of tautology. There must be any other basis for performing a duty. And this can be love alone, which propels people to act with the sense of duty. I got the library building constructed out of my love for my grandfather and his affection for me. I got a memorial stone carved on the cremation place of my parents only because of my love for them. My grandson is attracted to me because of my love for him, which he reciprocates emotionally.
Mishra is a former election commissioner