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Arts & Letters Daily


5a. Duty - Drama Teacher


Drama Teacher – Ms. Smith

5. Dilemma

Duty. Ms. Smith, the Drama teacher, was frustrated. She felt she had a duty to allow students, who found the course language in Of Mice and Men offensive, the option to read an alternative novel because she had promised their parents that their students would have that option. She would have to prepare a new set of Lessons and Assignments for these three students. Where would she find the time to do this when the rehearsals for the live performance of Of Mice and Men were taking so much of her out-of-class time? She knew she had a duty to teach all students in her class, but, did she really have a duty to prepare and teach an alternative novel to three students?


  • What crooked thinking did this Ms. Smith use to support her complaint?
  • What straight thinking did she use?
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view: Obligation/Duty

  • Crooked thinking

A person cannot put someone under an obligation but under a duty

  • Straight thinking

A person can put someone under an obligation but not under a duty (e.g., “you have an obligation to keep your promise”). Obligations tend to be incurred as the result of something a person has done. The obligation ‘to keep your promise’ follows from the fact that a person made a promise. On the other hand, a person has a duty in virtue of his situation and the person that he is. If Mr. Smith is a qualified teacher hired by a particular school board then he has a duty to teach in virtue of his situation of being a teacher who has been hired by a school board and the person that he is, namely, a qualified teacher. If he were not a qualified teacher, however ‘qualified’ is defined, he would not have an actual duty to teach because a person does not have a duty to do what he cannot do.

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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