October 28, 2009
Ross-there is a plurality of moral duties. Central claim: denies that there is
only one property that makes acts right. There isn’t just one duty that
promotes the most good. He believes that there are different duties that
make acts right. Ex. Promisekeeping, promoting justice, non-maleficence.
If the only duty is to produce the most amount of good, it is not known who is
to have the most good.Our intuitions tell us that there is more than one
The term prima facie is misleading because it suggests “at first appearance”,
and Ross isn’t talking about what merely appears to be a duty.
He is talking about rightmaking properties, that an act that promotes others’
pleasure tends to make it right and if it involves breaking a promise then
that act tends to be wrong.
Conditional duty-an act tends to be right given that it promotes others’
pleasure but tends to
be wrong given that it breaks a promise.
Conditional duty with other things equal attached: other things equal, you
should promote others’
Happiness, other things equal, you should keep your promises.
Prima Facie Duties- contrasted with an actual duty or a duty proper.
If you are biking and you see someone who is in an accident on the way. You
have a prima facie duty to keep your promise, and to help the person in the
accident. What you ought to do at the end of the day is help the person
because that duty is stronger.
Prima Facie Duty-term is misleading. It means on first appearance. That
suggests that your prima facie duty might not really be your duty.
Draws analogy with physical forces.
Prima Facie Duty=conditional duty. If an act tends to be right, given that it is
the keeping of a promise, but it tends to be wrong in that it is failing to help
someone that is injured.
-you ought to feel compunction about what you have done (breaking the
promise) if you stop and help the accident victim, and your friend is left
alone in the restaurant, you ought to do something in terms of
restitution/compensation Your duty all things considered is to help the person that has been injured.
If there is a plurality of basic duties, they can conflict, what is right depends
on which prima facie duty is stronger.
How do we weight prima facie duties against each other?
It is possible to be certain in some cases, e.g. making yourself 5 minutes late
promised lunch date because you are out saving 5 billion people.
A key feature of Ross’s theory is that, while not consequentialist, it’s also not
absolutist. Ross’ concept of prima facie duty allows non-absolutist
deontology. Some people think there are only two options: either the right
act is always the one with the best consequences, or some acts,