, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 503-516
Date: 05 Jan 2011

Open Duties

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There is a feature of the deontological landscape that, although a pervasive feature of our lives, has hitherto escaped notice. None of the categorizations of duties of which I know succeeds in capturing a common and important form of duty, which I will call an “open duty.”

Consider the categorization often associated with Kant, which distinguishes between perfect and imperfect duties.

A distinction historically connected to the Enlightenment Natural Law tradition. According to Andrew Blom’s comments on an earlier version of this paper, this distinction goes back at least as far as Grotius’ notion of “imperfect rights.”

A perfect duty is often conceived of as an absolute prohibition or obligation with regard to a specific kind of action; for example: do not murder, do not lie, do not break your promises. An imperfect duty however consists in an obligation to promote a certain end or to be responsive to certain kinds of concerns: help the poor, educate your children, develop your talents.