Some good advice from Dr. Allen Stairs, philosophy’s most prolific tweeter. Resolving disputes between multiple moral factors isn’t something I’d pretend to know much about, but here’s a handy principle: instead of thinking about ‘duties,’ apply everything you learned in kindergarten and you might just be a good person.
While a narrow focus on “duties” can lead you to do stuff that’s just plain insensitive and cruel, there’s also a risk that fixation on duties can lead you to do far more than you should. Sometimes, people will tell you that you have a duty to act, or a duty to protect, or a duty to do something that you really don’t have a duty to do.
To varying degrees, we have duties to lots of people in our lives - special obligations formed by virtue of having certain concrete relationships. Parents have duties to children, and children might also have duties to their ageing parents. But duties are not the only factor in determining right action, and your duty to one person (or yourself) may matter more than your duty to another. There are lesser and greater duties - stronger and weaker obligations. And when something truly wrong or at least excessive is expected of you, and the reason for your action is that it is your duty, unless you’re keenly aware that there is more to morality and life than duty, it can be hard to separate a dutiful action from a supererogatory act, or from an immoral one.
So here’s what I think a corollary of Allen’s advice is:
If you’re acting from duty, you had also better consider what the decent, kind, honest, or helpful course of action is - and you had better consider what duties you also have to yourself.