Study Guide

Foundation Duty

By Isaac Asimov


A [Seldon]. No, sir. Scientific truth is beyond loyalty and disloyalty. (I.6.23)

Some see one's highest duty as to nation or humanity, and Seldon agrees that duty to humanity is important. But facts are facts; there's no ideology there. Poor little factoids, taking all the heat.

"We are a State-supported, scientific institution, Hardin. We cannot—must not—will not interfere in local politics." (II.1.19)

Pirenne believes his duty is to science and science alone. Local politics don't hold a candle to science in his eye. But guess what? According to Hardin, everything is interconnected. Science and local politics can't be separated, because they affect everyone on Terminus.

"Forget it, Hardin. It's none of our business. We are first of all and last of all—scientists. And our concern is the Encyclopedia." (II.1.23)

The Board of Trustees believes its duty is to the encyclopedia. But duty to just facts, and not facts with an ideal behind them, is empty. Come on, guys, get psyched about something!

"Mission, hell," shouted Hardin. "That might have been true fifty years ago. But this is a new generation." (II.3.35)

Duty isn't stagnant. As society changes, duties have to adapt to the times. It's survival of the in-the-know rather than the fittest.

"What of it?" demanded Hardin. "I realize it was a gross breach of hospitality and a thing no so-called gentleman would do. Also, that if his lordship had caught on, things might have been unpleasant; but he didn't and I have the record, and that's that." (II.5.34)

Okay, good hospitality should be everyone's duty. We'll agree on that. But sometimes, just a few times, maybe a higher duty can trump hospitality? Like, prevention of war? Hardin seems to think so.

"So as to keep us from deviating, yes. But, conversely, as long as more than one course of action is possible, the crisis has not been reached. We must let things drift so long as we possibly can, and by space, that's what I intend doing." (III.2.70)

Our society tends to think of duty as action-oriented. But here's an interesting twist. Hardin seems to think that his duty is to wait until there's only one course of action. Only then can he meet his duty. (Glad it's not us, because patience was never our strong suit.)

"It may be due merely to unavoidable errors of calculation, or it might be due to the fact that I knew too much. I tried never to let my foresight influence my action, but how can I tell?" (III.2.87)

How's this for some backward thinking? Here, Hardin's duty is to do nothing and try to minimize his ability to know anything ahead of time. That's got to be harder than it sounds—and it sounds pretty stinkin' hard.

"In the name of the Galactic Spirit and of his prophet, Hari Seldon, and of his interpreters, the holy men of the Foundation, I curse this ship." (III.7.15)

Theo Aporat comes to a duty crossroads, where he has to choose between duty to his country and duty to the Foundation. Can you guess which one he goes with?

"[…] Hari Seldon and his band of psychologists planted a colony, the Foundation, out here in the middle of the mess, so that we could incubate art, science, and technology, and form the nucleus of the Second Empire." (V.3.18)

Surprise! The Foundation's true duty is to keep science alive. But is it really their duty if they're tricked or forced into it? Does duty without free will really mean anything?

"Remember, I may be a democrat back at the Foundation, but there's nothing short of tyranny that can run my ship the way I want it run. I never had to pull a blaster on my men before, and I wouldn't have had to now, if you hadn't gone out of line." (V.4.81)

Mallow's duty to see his mission through means he needs to put his principles aside. Usually a nonviolent man, here he needs to resort to a threat of violence to keep his mission on the rails. Principles and duty. Sometimes they go together like Bilbo and Frodo, but other times….