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Arts & Letters Daily


2a. Duty - Semple High School


Mrs. Jones and Semple High School


Duty. Mrs. Jones, who had a daughter attending Semple High School, was pondering to herself about what to say to the school’s Principal that afternoon when she was determined to object to the use of John Steinbach’s novel, Of Mice and Men in English classes. She felt she was right to object to the use of foul language in the book in class. Adolescents hear enough bad language on the street and in public places. More than that, she felt she had a duty to raise her objections because she had a right to do so. She simply had to make her case, first to the Principal and if he fails to act on her objection, then to the Board.


  • What crooked thinking did this parent use to support her complaint?
  • What straight thinking did she use?
  • What might the parent have said to clarify her argument?
  • How might the principal respond?
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view: If an act is morally right, then …

  • Crooked thinking

When an act is morally right, it is a person’s duty to do it.

  • Straight thinking

‘Morally right action’ does not necessarily mean that it is a person’s duty to do the act. Suppose it is right to give a needy student one dollar to buy a lunch at noon. This does not mean that a specific staff member who offered the student some money, had a duty to give the money. He may have met his duty by giving to charity on other occasions.

Moral principle value tests

An application of the moral principle value tests probably illustrates most clearly what is entailed in evaluative reasoning. They are:

It is important to emphasize that the moral-value principle tests are not designed to resolve issues (guarantee right answers!) but to assess the ‘justification’ for moral value decisions.

To view the Dilemma from the perspective of Duty, Rights, Motives, Desert and Justice, click on the following:

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