One of the most difficult tasks is to give the interpretation of Kant’s moral duty. The definition of moral duty is a contradictory one even according to Kant’s own terminology. One of the reasons is his usage of the term duty. Paton believes that Kant uses the moral duty to define the motive of obeying the moral law. A person does something because it is his or her moral duty. However, when Kant tries to define duty, he always refers to it as an action. According to this fact, there is a question of whether duty can be both the action and the obligation at the same time. Probably, Kant uses duty as an action to define it as a term, while when Kant uses duty as a motif, he refers to it as different aspects of moral duty.
According to Kant’s perception of moral duty, this phenomenon is necessary to discuss from both aspects: from the point of view that moral duty is an action and that moral duty is a motif. Kant defines moral duty as a necessity of action caused by respect to the law. Kant views it as an action that one is obliged to obey. However, the obligation is predetermined as a necessity of free action. From the empirical perspective, Kant divides moral duty into three steps. The first step is the case when the moral agent must respect the moral law. The second circumstance is when moral agents must respect the situation and know how to perform in a particular case. The third case is when a moral agent must perform his or her act as fulfilling the duty. According to this theory, moral duty is an action that is performed by a person because of his or her personal moral obligation, which is based on free will. In other words, a person has a certain world view and a certain perception of all things that happens to him or her. According to this perception of the world, each person formulates his or her own rules or obligations. These rules become the fundamentals of a person’s moral principles. They are created by a person and are not forced by society or somebody else, but a person is obliged to perform them and this obligation is caused by his or her own decision, free will. Thus, it can be said that moral duty is the obligation that a person chooses personally for himself or herself and he or she agrees to perform in a certain situation.
Moreover, according to Kant, the moral duty should include four principles. They are the following: do not harm yourself, do not harm others, do what is good for yourself, do what is good for others. Thus, moral duty is something more than simply an obligation to act in a particular way and in a particular situation. Moral duty predetermines that an action motivated by moral duty will not cause harm to a moral agent and to other people. Besides, an agent will receive something good from it as well as other people who participate somehow in a particular situation.
The formulation of moral duty requires obeying to certain steps in order to fulfill the moral duty. They are goodwill, reason, duty, rational beings, self-discipline, acting on universal principles. Any moral duty begins with goodwill or an intention to act in a particular manner in a particular situation. The person’s decision to be polite with other people is also a moral duty. A person makes an act to demonstrate good manners while communicating with other people. This decision is based on free will and its obligation depends on the person’s readiness to obey this rule that is created by this person. The next step is a reason; a person should have a significant reason to follow this principle. The reasons for obeying a moral duty are absolutely different. For example, it may be a character-building factor that was formed in childhood. Another reason is the goal to establish good relations with people in order to find reliable friends or partners in the future. In other words, each person has his/her own reasons for obeying a moral duty, but there could not be the absence of such reason because otherwise obeying moral duty loses its necessity. The reason plays a motivating role and, thus, a person is ready to follow his or her moral duty.
The third step is a duty. In the case of moral duty, the term duty has a bit different connotation. When one talks about duty, he or she usually means performing a certain action because of certain circumstances or situations. For example, the civic duty of citizens is to protect their native country from foreign invaders. In this case, the duty is an act that a person must perform in case of a foreign threat, but this duty is obligated by society, but not by a person himself or herself. In fact, it was not a personal decision to perform this duty, though there are many people who agree that this duty they are ready to perform, but still it is not their personal decision to obey it. In the case of moral duty, the initiator of a moral obligation is a person himself/herself. A person creates a duty that is necessary to obey because of his or her personal beliefs or principles. Other people may influence the decision of obeying a certain duty, but still, a person is the only one who can make himself or herself follow this obligation.
The next step is rational beings, which means obeying to a duty that is viewed as a rational one. A person will not try to obey a moral duty in case this duty seems irrational for him or her. The main condition of obeying a moral duty is a person’s faith in it. If a person truly believes that this moral duty is correct and it can be performed, then this moral duty is a real one. However, a person may create a moral duty, which cannot be performed in case of such a necessity. In other words, this moral duty exists only indeed and not in name.