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Blupete's Weekly Commentary


January 11, 1998.

"Duty."

What is the duty of one when it comes to defending his or her beliefs?1 When one has a considered stance or position on a subject, then it is that person's duty, when faced with a countering position, in situations which count, to defend one's views.2

Whether it is the duty of man to defend his ideological position, or not, inherent in my answer, depends on whether the defence is necessary to preserving one's life or protecting one's family and property. The simple fact is, that many disputes are not worth the candle. However, that said, it is the absolute duty of a person, whether he or she intends to argue any particular point or not, - to always, relentlessly, peruse the truth. Only when a person has set this objective, the pursuit of truth, might he or she be able to defend their views (duty bound or not).3

A much respected law lord, William Murray, Lord Mansfield, said the following in a case known to lawyers as the Wilkes' Case, 1768 (King's Bench). The learned judge was speaking out against "Outlawry," or the Rule of the Mob.

"I will do my duty unawed. What am I to fear? That mendax infamia [lying scandal] from the press, which daily coins false facts and false motives? The lies of calumny carry no terror to me. I trust that the temper of my mind, and the color and conduct of my life, have given me a suit of armor against these arrows ... (If ever I have not supported my government and assisted in its measures) I have done it without any other reward than the consciousness of doing what I thought right ...
I wish popularity, but it is that popularity which follows, not that which is run after. It is that popularity which, sooner or later, never fails to do justice to the pursuit of noble ends by noble means. I will not do that which my conscience tells me is wrong upon this occasion, to gain the huzzas of thousands, or the daily praise of all the papers which come from the press. I will not avoid doing what I think is right, though it should draw on me the whole artillery of libels - all that falsehood and malice can invent, or the credulity of a deluded populace can swallow." (Lord Mansfield)
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NOTES:

1 Before coming to grips with the question of one's duty to defend his or her beliefs - it is necessary to point out one of the more serious difficulties that we face in society. I am of the belief that few people hold considered views on anything, including what might be best for them to have for supper tonight.

2 I do not speak of blind duty as Tennyson did. While it is the duty to defend ones own beliefs; it is not one's duty to defend the dogmatic stances or positions of others. ("Theirs not to reply,/Theirs not to reason why,/Theirs but to do and die." Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade.")

3 Then there is Francis Bacon's assertion which is somewhat off point; but very important in the conduct of our lives: "Be true to oneself: in so doing, a person best serves oneself; and in only with such an approach, will one stand a chance of being true to another." (See "Of Wisdom for a Man's Self".)

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Peter Landry

January, 1998 (2013)