The theme announced for these lectures is the philosophy of value. It may seem that moral philosophy, along with aesthetics, the philosophy of art, the philosophy of environment … ought to be a proper part of the philosophy of value. I have chosen mottoes to illustrate the dangers of that supposition.
No matter how it is viewed, as a plausible version of anti-utilitarianism or of non-consequentialist, or even as a plausible version of deontology, the theory of prima facie duties certainly makes W. D. Ross one of the most important moral philosopher of the twentieth-century. By outlining his pluralistic deontology, this paper attempts to argue for a positive answer to the question of whether Ross’s theory can offer a solution to the issue of conflicting duties. If such a solution (...) is convincing, as I believe it is, it would indicate the possibility to justify within the deontological framework, i.e., without committing to the principle of good-maximizing, those “hard cases” where people should break a promise or other (prima facie) duty in order to prevent a disastrous outcome. The theory of prima facie duties might then suggest that deontology and utilitarianism would likely be reconcilable. (shrink)
In this article I describe the theoretical underpinnings of 20th-century British philosopher W. D. Ross's approach to linking deontological and teleological decision making. I attempt to fill in what Ross left on the whole unanswered, that is, how to use his duties to resolve dilemmas. A case study in journalism demonstrates how to apply the theory. I conclude with an analysis of what I take to be the strengths and weaknesses in Ross's theory.
The goal of this article is to try to resolve two key problems in the duty-based approach of W. D. Ross: the source of principles and a process for moving from prima facie to actual duty. I use a naturalistic explanation for the former and a nine-step method for making concrete ethical decisions as they could be applied to journalism. Consistent with Ross's position, the process is complicated, particularly in tougher problems, and it cannot guarantee correct choices. Again (...) consistent with Ross, such complexity and uncertainty speak in the method's favor, given the difficulty?factual, motivational, and organizational?of ethics problems and decision making. (shrink)
W. D. Ross’s ethical theory requires us somehow to compare the metaphorical “weights” of different prima facie duties, but it leaves mysterious how this might be done. The formulation of a procedure to achieve such a comparison would be desirable on practical, theoretical, and pedagogical grounds. I formulate a procedure that is congenial to Ross’s theory. Central to my procedure are instructions to characterize the weight of each prima facie duty with respect to (a) the general stringency of (...) this kind of duty, (b) the stringency of this particular duty relative to other duties of its own kind, and (c) the degree to which the duty specifically demands the particular action that it favors in a given case. The procedure leads to a determination of one’s actual, all-things-considered duty in some cases but not in all. (shrink)
As its title suggests, Robert Audi’s The Good in the Right1 defends an intuitionist moral view like W.D. Ross’s in The Right and the Good. Ross was an intuitionist, first, in metaethics, where he held that there are self-evident moral truths that can be known by intuition. But he was also an intuitionist in the different sense used in normative ethics, since he held that there are irreducibly many such truths. Some concern the intrinsic goods, which are in (...) turn plural, so there are prima facie duties to promote pleasure, knowledge, virtue, and just distributions. But others are deontological, requiring one apart from any consequences to keep promises, not lie, make reparations, express gratitude, and not injure others. Audi embraces both these intuitionist views, but in each case with an important addition. Ross sometimes said that if a proposition does not need proof, it is incapable of proof, or cannot be justified inferentially. Audi argues persuasively that this is not so. A proposition that is selfevident, in the sense that understanding it justifies one in believing it, can also be derivable from other self-evident propositions in a way that increases its justification. And he exploits this possibility in his normative ethics. Whereas Ross held that his prima facie duties are underivative, Audi suggests that, while self-evident, they can also be grounded in a more abstract principle. More specifically, he argues in Chapter 4 of his book that they can be grounded in Kant’s categorical imperative, which he applies primarily in its second, or formula of humanity, version. The result is to transform what Audi calls Rossian intuitionism into Kantian 1 intuitionism, where specific duties about promoting pleasure and keeping promises derive from a more fundamental requirement to respect rational personhood. I will not challenge Audi’s version of metaethical intuitionism, which I think is the most subtle and persuasive yet given. Nor will I question his normative starting-point in Ross’s theory of prima facie duties, which I find unimpeachable.. (shrink)
ABSTRACTWith the recent revival of moral intuitionism, the work of W. D. Ross has grown in stature. But if we look at some recent well-regarded histories, anthologies and companions of analytic philosophy, Ross is noticeably absent. This discrepancy of assessments raises the question of Ross’s place in the history of analytic philosophy. Hans-Johann Glock has recently claimed that Ross is not an analytic philosopher at all, but is instead a ‘traditional philosopher’. In this article, I will (...) identify several undeniable features of analytic philosophy that Ross’s work bears: a focus on linguistic analysis, great respect for pre-theoretical thoughts, the conviction that philosophy is a collaborative, piecemeal enterprise and so on. Such an investigation, I claim, reveals two historically significant results: Ross was the first ethicist to fully draw from commonsense beliefs about morality in light of characteristic analytic considerations to secure his theory. Two, concerning the matter of whether the notion... (shrink)