The Nature vs. Culture Debate and the Concept of Duty: Exploring Connections and Insights

Lucas Charbonnier

Lucas Charbonnier

Aug 26, 20234 min read


The Nature vs. Culture Debate and the Concept of Duty: Exploring Connections and Insights


The debate surrounding the opposition between nature and culture in human beings has long been a topic of philosophical inquiry. On one hand, culture, defined as the artificial constructs created by humans, seems to detach individuals from their inherent nature. On the other hand, the development of culture is argued to be an essential aspect of human nature itself. This article aims to explore the connections between these two concepts and delve into the idea of duty, both as a moral and social obligation. By examining these interconnected themes, we can gain valuable insights into the complexities of human existence and the importance of personal agency.

I. Culture: A Departure from Nature?

1. The Transition from the State of Nature:

According to Rousseau, human essence consists of two primal sentiments - self-love and compassion. The concept of perfectibility suggests that humans possess the capacity to transcend their natural state through adaptability. While progress is possible, regression and the loss of compassion can also occur.

2. The Role of Culture in Fulfilling Human Nature:

Humans are products of their interactions and learning experiences. Natural qualities remain dormant without the influence of culture. Education, distinct from mere conditioning, plays a vital role in human development, ultimately leading to the fulfillment of human nature.

II. Overcoming the Nature/Culture Dichotomy:

1. The Inseparability of Nature and Culture:

Attempting to separate the innate and acquired elements within humans proves impossible. Humans, driven by hunger, do not just eat but also engage in the preparation and communal aspects of meals. This blurs the line between nature and culture, emphasizing their intertwined existence.

2. The Non-Existence of a Fixed Human Nature:

Existentialist thinkers, such as Sartre, argue against the existence of a predetermined human nature. Each individual defines their nature through actions and choices. Humans lack the instinctual qualities found in animals and plants, necessitating the creation of their own moral framework.

III. The Concept of Duty:

1. Duty as a Moral or Social Obligation:

The notion of duty can encompass both deeply moral obligations and social expectations. When viewed as a moral obligation, duty is self-imposed and guided by personal values that surpass all others. Neglecting duty implies acting solely based on personal inclinations, fear of consequences, or the hope of rewards.

2. The Distinction between Categorical and Hypothetical Imperatives:

Kant's concept of the "categorical imperative" refers to an unconditional and universal moral command. It compels morally upright individuals to aid those in need without any conditions. In contrast, "hypothetical imperatives" are conditionally based on personal desires or external factors. True duty stems from voluntary commitment and cannot be enforced through coercion.

3. Duty as a Balancing Act:

Duty, when understood as a moral obligation, stands in opposition to duty as social conformity. Societies impose numerous behaviors that individuals internalize, shaping their moral compass. This conformity, driven by the need for group cohesion, contrasts with the universalizable nature of moral duty. True duty promotes the absolute value of every individual, arising from the equal dignity of all human beings.


The ongoing debate between nature and culture in humans intertwines with the concept of duty, both as a moral and social obligation. While culture may appear to distance individuals from their inherent nature, it also plays a crucial role in fulfilling human potential. Duty, viewed as a self-imposed moral commitment, transcends societal expectations and recognizes the equal worth of all individuals. To navigate the complexities of existence, it is essential to acknowledge the connections between nature, culture, and duty. Here are three actionable pieces of advice based on the insights gleaned from this exploration:

1. Embrace personal growth through cultural exposure and education, as they contribute to the fulfillment of human nature.

2. Reflect on personal actions and choices, recognizing the power to define one's own nature and act in alignment with moral values.

3. Prioritize moral duty over social conformity, striving to uphold the universal value of each individual.

By recognizing the intricate relationship between nature, culture, and duty, we can aspire to lead more authentic and morally conscious lives.

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