Lead SA composed a Bill of Responsibilities to complement the South African Bill of Rights and express those rights in a practical way.

I think it is an inspirational idea, but I expected the corollary of rights to be obligations rather than responsibilities.

Is there a difference between my responsibilities and my obligations, and which term is the most accurate and appropriate in this context?

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    I think this can turn into quite a philosophical discussion. In my opinion "responsibilities" is more fitting here, because of the way "rights" is used. In another context "obligation" can be the better match. – Joachim Sauer Apr 8 '13 at 12:31
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    Responsibilities, duties, and obligations are sufficiently synonymous that any one of them can be used, probably interchangeably, unless the context clearly demands one word rather than the other two. They can all be stipulated as equivalent for the purpose of the document in question, but I think that's unnecessary. There need be no semantic or "philosophical" discussion about the meanings of these three words: they are basic enough for any semi-educated native Anglophone to understand what they mean when contrasted with "rights". – user21497 Apr 8 '13 at 13:01
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    Though interchangeable, responsibilities and obligations can have different psycological effects on some people. To some, the former is more easily digested than the latter. When addressing masses it could be something to consider.:) – SmokerAtStadium Apr 8 '13 at 13:16

The Bill of Responsibilities referred to in the question appears to be a list of moral obligations, duties, or responsibilities that responsible citizens of South Africa will undertake. In this case, one could substitute obligations for responsibilities, but as suggested below, responsibilities serves better.

Briefly, the relevant meanings are:
responsibility: “A duty, obligation or liability for which someone is held accountable”
duty: “That which one is morally or legally obligated to do”
obligation: “A social, legal, or moral requirement, duty, contract, or promise that compels someone to follow or avoid a particular course of action”, or “(law) A legal agreement stipulating a specified payment or action...”

Except in contracts, job descriptions, etc., responsibilities are thought of as moral obligations rather than legal obligations. If the qualifier moral is intended but not stated, the word responsibilities is more likely to be used than is obligations; and if the qualifier legal is intended but not stated, vice versa.

In short, obligation has an additional commonly-used legal sense that often is not carried by responsibility or duty.

  • Also, "Rights and Responsibilities" is a common, alliterative phrase to cover both sides of a relationship. – Bradd Szonye Apr 19 '13 at 5:50

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