The Interplay between Duty, Justice, and Law

Lucas Charbonnier

Hatched by Lucas Charbonnier

Jan 23, 2024

5 min read


The Interplay between Duty, Justice, and Law


Duty, justice, and law are fundamental concepts that play a crucial role in shaping our moral compass and societal structure. While duty can be perceived as a personal obligation driven by moral values, justice encompasses the ideal order where everyone receives what they deserve. On the other hand, law, as both an institution and a norm, governs social interactions and ensures the proper application of justice. In this article, we will explore the complex relationship between duty, justice, and law, and delve into the question of whether violence can ever be justified in the pursuit of justice.

Duty: Moral and Social Obligations:

Duty can be viewed through two distinct lenses - as a moral obligation and as a social obligation. When seen as a moral obligation, duty is what we demand of ourselves based on moral values that we consider superior to all others. It is the internalized sense of responsibility that compels us to act in accordance with these values, even when no one is watching. However, duty can also be driven by social conformity and prudence, rather than personal moral convictions. This type of duty arises from societal expectations and the need to maintain social cohesion.

In his concept of the "categorical imperative," philosopher Immanuel Kant emphasizes the importance of acting out of duty rather than personal inclination or fear of punishment. According to Kant, true duty is freely chosen and not imposed by external forces. It is a manifestation of our commitment to help others in need, knowing that we have the ability to make a difference. In contrast, "hypothetical imperatives" are conditional commands that arise from personal desires, fear of consequences, or the anticipation of rewards.

The distinction between moral duty and social duty is essential, as the former is universalizable and applies to all human beings, while the latter is specific to certain groups or societies. Social duties are often ingrained in us through the process of socialization, where we internalize societal values and conform to the moral standards of our respective groups. However, it is crucial to recognize that true duty promotes the intrinsic value and equal dignity of every individual, deriving from the equal worth of all human beings.

Justice and Law: The Nexus of Order:

The notions of justice and law are intertwined, both as institutions and as moral imperatives. As an institution, justice refers to the judicial power responsible for upholding the law and maintaining social order. Law, on the other hand, encompasses the set of rules created by humans to regulate social interactions and establish a framework for justice. However, justice can also be seen as a norm, value, or moral demand that transcends legal boundaries.

Justice, as an ideal, represents the perfect order in which each person receives their due. It is the unwavering commitment to defend this perceived legitimate order. In this sense, justice becomes the norm to which the law must adhere, rather than the other way around. Positive justice, as a social requirement, ensures the proper application of established laws. Similarly, positive law refers to the set of laws enacted in a specific country and time period.

However, justice also encompasses a broader perspective - that of natural justice. Natural justice refers to the conformity not only to written laws but also to equality and equity. It embodies the notion of justice as a value, norm, or moral demand that extends beyond positive law. While legality represents the adherence to established laws, legitimacy refers to the conformity to inherent justice and morality.

The Question of Self-Justice and Violence:

One intriguing question that arises in the pursuit of justice is whether one can take matters into their own hands and seek self-justice. Is there a right to seek revenge, or is it always just to rely on the verdict of a judge? Seeking self-justice through vengeance perpetuates the cycle of conflict, as the offended turns into an offender. By contrast, relying on the legal system and abiding by the rule of law promotes peace and resolution.

Legal punishment is based on the universality of the law, treating all individuals equally, and the judgment of an impartial judge who is not involved in the dispute. It is only through legal punishment, which aims for repair and improvement rather than suffering, that human relationships can be pacified. By emphasizing the general applicability of the law and the need for impartial judgment, society can strive for a more just and harmonious coexistence.

The Role of Violence in Pursuit of Justice:

A thought-provoking question arises when considering whether violence can be a remedy for injustice. Violence, characterized by the excessive use of force, is legitimate and justifiable only when the law is violated. However, the question remains: is it morally and legally justifiable to oppose an unjust order through violence? True justice is built upon the rejection of violence, as it represents a transition from the cycle of vengeance to the realm of law and order.


In conclusion, duty, justice, and law are interconnected concepts that shape our moral and societal fabric. Duty can be seen as both a moral and social obligation, while justice encompasses the ideal order where everyone receives what they deserve. Law, as an institution and a norm, regulates social interactions and ensures the application of justice. While the pursuit of justice should prioritize non-violent means, it is crucial to rely on the legal system and impartial judgment to pacify human relations.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Foster a sense of moral duty: Reflect on your values and strive to act in accordance with them, even when it may be easier to follow societal norms or personal desires.
  • 2. Promote equal dignity: Recognize the inherent worth of every individual and treat others with respect and fairness, regardless of societal expectations or group affiliations.
  • 3. Seek legal avenues for justice: When faced with injustice, rely on the legal system to address grievances rather than resorting to self-justice or violence. Trust in the impartiality of judges and the power of legal punishment to foster peace and resolution.

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