A term loosely applied to any action (or course of action) which is regarded as morally incumbent, apart from personal likes and dislikes or any external compulsion. Such action must be viewed in relation to a principle, which may be abstract in the highest sense (e.g. obedience to the dictates of conscience) or based on local and personal relations. That a father and his children have mutual duties implies that there are moral laws regulating their relationship; that it is the duty of a servant to obey his master within certain limits is part of a definite contract, whereby he becomes a servant engaging to do certain things for a specified wage. Thus, it is held that it is not the duty of a servant to infringe a moral law even though his master should command it. For the nature of duty in the abstract, and the various criteria on which it has been based, see ethics.
From the root idea of obligation to serve or give something in return, involved in the conception of duty, have sprung various derivative uses of the word; thus it is used of the services performed by a minister of a church, by a soldier, or by any employee or servant.