Right, Duty and Obligation/Responsibility: a Search for Ethical

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Dr. Ani Casimir K.C
1) Introduction:

Immanuel Kant gave philosophy four fundamental questions with which it is to concern itself and they are: (1) What can I know? ;
(2) What is man?;
(3) What can I hope for, and,
(4) Finally, what ought I to do.
The latter—‘what ought I to do?’ is the central subject of ethics,or what is variously called moral philosophy or philosophy of morality. With the concepts of ‗right‘, ‗duty‘ and obligation‘ and responsibility, we move into the science of ‗oughts‘ that define the moral foundation of human society and the stability of its social fabric. The Kantian challenge here is that before we can build a morally strong and ethically virile social order the citizens should know the fundamentals of ‗righteousness‘ or the values that build a right and moral citizenship who knows his rights, carries out his duties and compels the state, within the bounds of a good moral-legal order, to fulfil its obligations to the citizens. Before we can delve into the meaning of the terms-- right, duty, obligation,and its allied responsibility, let us carry out a brief survey of what is meant by ethics or science of morality.

2) Ethics – A Brief View:

A lot of people fail to appreciate the fact that back in antiquity, ethics did not constitute an independent study as such,but was part of a bigger course of study. For it was simply known in classical antiquity as the science of ‗worth’ or ‘value’ so that what was popular was the study of ‗axios’ and not ‗ethos‘. ‗Axios’ translates to a meaningful 3

expression ‗to be worthy‘ root word for axiology - a more popular science than ethos – the root word for ethics. Ethics meant ‗character or the custom‘ so that one can talk about individual character being good or bad and a society‘s custom could be worthy or not. Axiology as the science that propels society and guides her as to what is valuable, worthy or honourable came from the Greek; it determines and properly classifies the subjects and disciplines which are worthy of being pursued, engaged in or discussed by citizens. From such discussions emerge values which are worthy of emulation by citizens and the state and are classified and codified accordingly. Over time such classifications and codifications became a study and was called ‗ethics‘ – or ‗worthy of character or valued behaviour.‘ Professor Egbeka Aja also threw light upon the origins of the ethical science when he did a supportive expose in his book ‗philosophy: An Introduction’: ‘Axiology is from the Greek: Axios meaning worthy, of philosophy and logos,meaning discourse. This is the branch that deals with values – both intrinsic and extrinsic values. Values are described as intrinsic when they are pursued for their own sake; while extrinsic values are pursued as a means to other ends. For instance, education can be said have intrinsic value when it is aimed at the improvement of man. It can be said to have extrinsic value when it seen as a means to attaining political power or to acquire material wealth. Axiology can be conveniently divided into the following sub-branches-- ethics, aesthetics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of law and education…(1) 4

One seminal distinction that has emerged from this classical history is that ethics was only part of a bigger discipline that included law, politics, education and aesthetics. Except in Indian universities, Britain and some Middle Eastern schools, the study of axiology as the science of values (i.e. human values) have almost disappeared. In its place, ethics – its sub-branch-- is taking the centre stage as the ‗worthy‘ discipline of value for the society. The word ethics comes from the Greek root word – ethos- ‗meaning custom or characte’r, defined by professor Aja as: ‘that branch of axiology which is sometimes called moral philosophy. It deals with the values concomitant...
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