- Date: 14th century
- 1 : the action of obligating oneself to a course of action (as by a promise or vow)
- 2 a : something (as a formal contract, a promise, or the demands of conscience or custom) that obligates one to a course of action
- b : a debt security (as a mortgage or corporate bond)
- c : a commitment (as by a government) to pay a particular sum of money; also : an amount owed under such an obligation <unable to meet its obligations, the company went into bankruptcy>
- 3 a : a condition or feeling of being obligated
An obligation is a requirement to take some course of action, whether legal or moral. There are also obligations in other normative contexts, such as obligations of etiquette, social obligations, and possibly in terms of politics, where obligations are requirements which must be fulfilled. These are generally legal obligations, which can incur a penalty for unfulfilment, although certain people are obliged to carry out certain actions for other reasons as well, whether as a tradition or for social reasons. Obligations vary from person to person: for example, a person holding a political office will generally have far more obligations than an average adult citizen, who themselves will have more obligations than a child. Obligations are generally granted in return for an increase in an individual’s rights or power.
The term obligate can also be used in a biological context, in reference to species which must occupy a certain niche or behave in a certain way in order to survive. In biology, the opposite of obligate is facultative, meaning that a species is able to behave in a certain way and may do so under certain circumstances, but that it can also survive without having to behave this way.