The Concept of Duty and the Fallacy of Identity

A friend posted this on a social media site the other day and it provides the perfect opportunity to discuss a common fallacy that is occurring regularly these days in the media and online, as well as a concept that is used as a moral imperative to direct action and opinions about what is right or wrong.

I’ll start by saying that since I like the author of the post and consider him/her a friend, I will not identify that person, and that by using quotes and discussing the post, I’m not trying to shame anyone, or make anyone look stupid.  My only goal here is to discuss the concepts, and the particular fallacy because of their relevance.

“I have been pondering on our Albanian history and what the generations and my family did to fight for Albanian land and freedom. Should it be our duty as Albanians and those who are Albanian descendants to one day retire and live in Albania? Should we one day go back an ensure we occupy what our brothers and sister fought for? Should we return to the land that belongs to us? Most of us know our roots and where we came from.


I decided to opine with an answer that brings into light the core of the posters question which was the notion of “duty” and from where does a “duty” to someone or something come from. In a short space I waxed philosophical, and even provided supporting quotes from Rand.

My “thoughts” were met with a bit of opposition.  Apparently the question was either a “hey look at me” post, not really wanting an answer at all (doubtful), or a question looking for an answer that supported the existing sentiments of the author since the reply I received said that, in essence, because I was not like him, I wasn’t qualified to opine.

You can’t relate because you don’t know where your from. Meaning where your from I mean the exact land, relatives and history of your family. Mine dates back to the Independence of Albania. Anyway, recently I saw a program where Jews go back to Israel to the land of their ancestors. It not about loyalty to a govt or America. Anyone is free to live anywhere in the world like people who retire in Costa Rica. You made a point but its so off track, it doesn’t relate to what I am saying. Again, unless you have a deep rooted history somewhere, you can never understand what I mean. And as much as you want to comment on this, you can’t but you can.”

I pointed out that this was a logical fallacy, but to be specific this is the Identity Fallacy.  The Identity Fallacy occurs when arguments are marginalized as simply not worth arguing about, solely because of the lack of proper racial, ethnic or gender background of the person making the argument, or because the one arguing does not self-identify as a member of the identity “in-group.” For instance “You’d understand me if you were Albanian (or from somewhere else and know your roots) but since you’re not there’s no way you can relate to what I’m saying,” or “Nobody but a minority can know what it means to be poor.”).  I privately said that this was the same sort of tactic that BLM uses to silence opposition after all, you are not Black, you can’t have an opinion on BLM, or if you are not a Mexican, you can’t speak about immigration.  If you are not poor, you cannot speak or have an opinion about welfare.  If you are not gay, you are not short, you are not fat, you are not “fill in the blank” and therefore can’t speak or have an opinion, or be knowledgeable about something because you just don’t know.

What makes the post so relevant is that the left-wing has been using the “identity politics” flame thrower for years in order to marginalize opposition to their message and policy.  Instinctively we know its bullshit and we often call it out as such, however, here is an example of someone who is a conservative, definitely not a liberal, using the same tactic to shut up someone who offered a point of view that perhaps wasn’t something they were emotionally prepared to consider.  Its important that when advancing ideas and communicating that we not use the same fallacious tactics that the left wing uses.  Doing so undermines the credibility of the message, moreover, if the message is correct and free from contradictions, it won’t need a logical fallacy to help bamboozle people into accepting it.

Switching gears here, the issue of a “duty” to someone or something is a profoundly philosophical one.  It is a complicated concept, despite its seeming simplicity.  In her book “Philosophy, Who Needs It?” Rand dealt specifically with the concept of “duty” in Chapter 10 Causality vs. Duty.  In that chapter/essay she states:

“One of the most destructive anti-concepts in the history of moral philosophy is the term “duty.”

An anti-concept is an artificial, unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The term “duty” obliterates more than single concepts; it is a metaphysical and psychological killer: it negates all the essentials of a rational view of life and makes them inapplicable to man’s actions . . . .

The meaning of the term “duty” is: the moral necessity to perform certain actions for no reason other than obedience to some higher authority, without regard to any personal goal, motive, desire or interest.

It is obvious that that anti-concept is a product of mysticism, not an abstraction derived from reality. In a mystic theory of ethics, “duty” stands for the notion that man must obey the dictates of a supernatural authority. Even though the anti-concept has been secularized, and the authority of God’s will has been ascribed to earthly entities, such as parents, country, State, mankind, etc., their alleged supremacy still rests on nothing but a mystic edict. Who in hell can have the right to claim that sort of submission or obedience? This is the only proper form—and locality—for the question, because nothing and no one can have such a right or claim here on earth.

The arch-advocate of “duty” is Immanuel Kant; he went so much farther than other theorists that they seem innocently benevolent by comparison. “Duty,” he holds, is the only standard of virtue; but virtue is not its own reward: if a reward is involved, it is no longer virtue. The only moral motivation, he holds, is devotion to duty for duty’s sake; only an action motivated exclusively by such devotion is a moral action . . . .

If one were to accept it, the anti-concept “duty” destroys the concept of reality: an unaccountable, supernatural power takes precedence over facts and dictates one’s actions regardless of context or consequences.

“Duty” destroys reason: it supersedes one’s knowledge and judgment, making the process of thinking and judging irrelevant to one’s actions.

“Duty” destroys values: it demands that one betray or sacrifice one’s highest values for the sake of an inexplicable command—and it transforms values into a threat to one’s moral worth, since the experience of pleasure or desire casts doubt on the moral purity of one’s motives.

“Duty” destroys love: who could want to be loved not from “inclination,” but from “duty”?

“Duty” destroys self-esteem: it leaves no self to be esteemed.

If one accepts that nightmare in the name of morality, the infernal irony is that “duty” destroys morality. A deontological (duty-centered) theory of ethics confines moral principles to a list of prescribed “duties” and leaves the rest of man’s life without any moral guidance, cutting morality off from any application to the actual problems and concerns of man’s existence. Such matters as work, career, ambition, love, friendship, pleasure, happiness, values (insofar as they are not pursued as duties) are regarded by these theories as amoral, i.e., outside the province of morality. If so, then by what standard is a man to make his daily choices, or direct the course of his life?

In a deontological theory, all personal desires are banished from the realm of morality; a personal desire has no moral significance, be it a desire to create or a desire to kill. For example, if a man is not supporting his life from duty, such a morality makes no distinction between supporting it by honest labor or by robbery. If a man wants to be honest, he deserves no moral credit; as Kant would put it, such honesty is “praiseworthy,” but without “moral import.” Only a vicious represser, who feels a profound desire to lie, cheat and steal, but forces himself to act honestly for the sake of “duty,” would receive a recognition of moral worth from Kant and his ilk.

This is the sort of theory that gives morality a bad name.”

Rand dealt extensively with morality in her book The Virtue of Selfishness, and it is a good adjunct to gaining full appreciation for the problems of the anti-concept “duty”.    Feel free to leave comments or questions in the section below.