A notion that one must perform a given task for the sake of one's family, nation, and/or religion. Such notions often include doing things that don't really make much sense, but that people are inspired to do with rousing music and stirring speeches.

According to George Eliot, God was inconceivable, immortality was unbelievable, but duty was none the less "peremptory and absolute."

Considering the Victorian view of duty, this is a poignant commentary on the predicament of Victorian agnostics.


In an age of fops and toys,
Wanting wisdom, void of right,
Who shall nerve heroic boys
To hazard all in Freedom’s fight—
Break sharply off their jolly games,
Forsake their comrades gay,
And quit proud homes and youthful dames
For famine, toil, and fray?
Yet on the nimble air benign
Speed nimbler messages,
That waft the breath of grace divine
To hearts in sloth and ease.
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Du"ty (?), n.; pl. Duties (#). [From Due.]


That which is due; payment.

[Obs. as signifying a material thing.]

When thou receivest money for thy labor or ware, thou receivest thy duty. Tyndale.


That which a person is bound by moral obligation to do, or refrain from doing; that which one ought to do; service morally obligatory.

Forgetting his duty toward God, his sovereign lord, and his country. Hallam.


Hence, any assigned service or business; as, the duties of a policeman, or a soldier; to be on duty.

With records sweet of duties done. Keble.

To employ him on the hardest and most imperative duty. Hallam.

Duty is a graver term than obligation. A duty hardly exists to do trivial things; but there may be an obligation to do them. C. J. Smith.


Specifically, obedience or submission due to parents and superiors.



Respect; reverence; regard; act of respect; homage.

"My duty to you."


6. Engin.

The efficiency of an engine, especially a steam pumping engine, as measured by work done by a certain quantity of fuel; usually, the number of pounds of water lifted one foot by one bushel of coal (94 lbs. old standard), or by 1 cwt. (112 lbs., England, or 100 lbs., United States).

7. Com.

Tax, toll, impost, or customs; excise; any sum of money required by government to be paid on the importation, exportation, or consumption of goods.

⇒ An impost on land or other real estate, and on the stock of farmers, is not called a duty, but a direct tax. [U.S.]

Ad valorem duty, a duty which is graded according to the cost, or market value, of the article taxed. See Ad valorem. -- Specific duty, a duty of a specific sum assessed on an article without reference to its value or market. -- On duty, actually engaged in the performance of one's assigned task.


© Webster 1913.

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