Philosophy 2730F/G Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Moral Agency, Distributive Justice, Wisdom Of Repugnance

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Published on 13 Nov 2012
Meyers 11/13/2012 7:19:00 AM
Christopher Meyers
The Point:
o The justification of Ross’ ethical principles can be developed
from a naturalized, evolutionary account of human moral
development. Nine steps can be taken to help determine
when a ‘prima facie’ duty becomes an ‘actual’ duty.
Summary of Ross’ position:
o Ross’s position is characterized as Deontological Pluralism
there is a plurality of ultimate moral principles rather than
just one
o Each principle specifies a prima facie duty we have that
duty unless there exists a competing duty of greater weight
That any one prima facie duty could be outweighed by a
different principle is a primary feature of his pluralism
Moral life is extremely complex and messy, so there
cannot be one general rule that identifies all our moral
Instead, there is a set of prima facie (on their
face) duties rather than actual duties
Duties that are prima facie hold in most
situations, but can be overridden by alternate
fundamental moral considerations in different
o Ross provides a set of six prima facie duties:
1) Duties from prior actions fidelity and reparation
2) Duties from services from others gratitude
3) Duties concerned with the fair distribution of goods
distributive justice
4) Duties to help others generosity
5) Duties to improve ourselves self-improvement
6) Duties not to harm others do no harm (non-
These are self-evident to any rational moral agent,
through a combination of experience and generalization
We take a moral risk when we act, and we’re lucky if we
get it right
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o Moral reasoning is, in this sense inductive we make
educated guesses using our best judgment when the precise
requirements of morality are unclear to us in particular
o Many critics of Ross have said:
That the fundamental principles are not shared
universally by all
That it is unclear how our prima facie duties become
actual duties in concrete situations
What makes Ross’ view a Position Worth Defending
o Meyers starts out by noting that he thinks Ross was right to
say all morally mature individuals know the prima facie duties
as a matter of intuition
o The primary value of Ross’ work stems from his focus on the
practical nature of ethical study work in ethics ought to be
geared toward real persons who experience real ethical
o Meyers notes eight key insights Ross’ work provides:
1) The difference between abstract moral principles and
the specific moral demands placed on individuals by
those principles in particular circumstances
2) The power of humans to make immediate moral
3) Relationships between persons are morally relevant
4) Consequences are morally relevant, some of our
prima facie duties require that we act to bring about
good consequences
5) Individual character is morally relevant, we have
duties to become better people
6) Moral decision making is complex and fraught with
7) When one of our prima facie duties overrides
another, we experience regret at having had to violate
the duty
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