The Absolute and Relative Nature of Duty and Justice

Lucas Charbonnier

Lucas Charbonnier

Oct 14, 20233 min read


The Absolute and Relative Nature of Duty and Justice


Duty and justice are fundamental concepts in ethical and legal frameworks. However, their nature and application have been subjects of debate throughout history. In this article, we will explore the absolute and relative aspects of duty and justice, drawing insights from various perspectives and disciplines.

I. Duty: Absolute or Relative?

1. Formal, Universal, and Unconditional Duty:

Acting out of duty implies that everyone should be able to act in the same way, creating a reciprocal relationship. A duty must have a specific content that can take the form of universal obligation. Hypothetical duties, which are conditional, do not possess this universality.

II. Relative Duties:

1. Duties of Role and Responsibility:

Certain duties are tied to specific roles and responsibilities within society. These duties are relative as they seek what is preferable or appropriate and avoid what is harmful. Stoics differentiate between preferable, harmful, and indifferent actions, with only the former two being objects of duty.

2. Duty from a Sociological Perspective:

According to Durkheim, duties are internalized societal rules, primarily through education. Consequently, duties vary across different societies. For instance, the duty to respect the property of others corresponds to the requirement of a society based on private ownership. These duties are relative to each particular society.

III. Justice: Can It Be Injust?

1. The Role of the Judicial System:

The institution of justice aims to guide individuals towards right action. Laws provide guidance on what is just, enabling harmonious societal living. They act as a counterbalance to our inherent selfishness and ensure that we understand what actions align with justice.

2. Punishment and Justice:

Punishment serves as a means to uphold the freedom of citizens and encourages individuals to reflect on the meaning and consequences of their actions. Experiencing justice becomes essential in understanding what is just. Therefore, establishing a just system is necessary, as injustice only leads to recurring conflicts.

3. The Importance of Individual Recognition:

The exercise of justice relies on recognizing individuals as free consciences capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. Considering individuals in this manner aligns with a universal moral framework.


Duty and justice possess both absolute and relative elements, depending on the context and perspective. While duties can be universal and categorical, they can also be relative to specific roles and societal norms. Similarly, justice can only be achieved when laws are just, and individuals recognize the importance of upholding justice.

Actionable Advice:

1. Reflect on your duties in various roles and responsibilities, considering both universal obligations and societal expectations.

2. Seek to understand the underlying principles of justice and how they align with your own moral compass. Consider engaging in discussions and debates on justice to deepen your understanding.

3. Advocate for just laws and systems, and engage in peaceful forms of civil disobedience when faced with unjust laws.

By exploring the absolute and relative nature of duty and justice, we can gain a more comprehensive understanding of these concepts and foster a more just and ethical society.

Want to hatch new ideas?

Glasp AI allows you to hatch new ideas based on your curated content. Let's curate and create with Glasp AI :)