Difference Between Obligation and Duty

Obligation vs Duty

Obligation and duty can be understood as two words between which there exists some difference in meaning and connotation, even though they tend to be used interchangeably. At a first glance, both words highlight a sense of binding or a requirement that has been established by an individual. However, the nature of this binding is varied, highlighting a difference between the two words. Simply, obligation can be understood as something that is imposed on an individual due to some framework such as legality. But, in the case of duty, it is the sense of morality that guides the individual to perform a particular task or activity. This article attempts to highlight the differences between the two terms while creating an understanding of each term in the reader.

What does Obligation mean?

When examining the term obligation, it can be defined as something that an individual must perform due to an agreement, law, etc. In this sense, the person is compelled to complete a task or engage in an activity due to the existence of rules and regulations. For example, when a person says, “I was obliged to do it,” this highlights that the individual had no choice. We are obliged to engage in different activities, in various contexts. Especially, in the corporate sector, this term gains a very strong meaning. For example, take the case of a newly recruited employee. He signs a contract with the organization and commences his work. This contract includes a specific job description and a duty list, to which the employee needs to adhere. This can be identified as an obligation, because after signing the contract the individual is obliged to perform various tasks. It is not the morality that drives the individual to work, but the rules and regulations. This highlights that, in an obligation, the individual is not motivated within to the performance of a task, but compelled.

Difference Between Obligation and Duty

An employee has an obligation to his employer

What does Duty mean?

The term duty, on the other hand, highlights a sense of morality which makes an individual engage in an activity. It is a responsibility that comes to the individual that is not compelled by others. The individual has the choice of doing it or not. The existence of rules and regulations as in the case of an obligation, cannot be observed in a duty. It can even be viewed as a societal demand and expectation from individuals. For example, take the case of looking after elders. It is not considered as an obligation but as the responsibility or else the duty of the younger generation. There are no steadfast rules that control the behavior of the younger generation, but morality. It is this sense of doing right, which drives the action.

Obligation vs Duty

Looking after elders is a duty

What is the difference between Obligation and Duty?

• Obligation can be defined as something that is imposed on an individual due to some framework such as laws, rules and regulations and even agreements.

• Duty comes from the sense of morality which guides the individual to perform a particular task or activity.

• An obligation is compelled whereas duty comes from within the individual.

• In an obligation, the individual has no choice but, in a duty, the individual has a choice.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Obligation via Wikicommons (Public Domain)
  2. Duty via Schulman Finances