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Critical Analysis of "what Makes Right Acts Right"

Essay by   •  December 3, 2012  •  Essay  •  630 Words (3 Pages)  •  3,313 Views

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Critical Assessment

In "What Makes Right Acts Right?", W.D. Ross discusses whether an act is morally right or not from an ethical intuition standpoint by presenting us with a view called "prima facie duties." According to prima facie duties, we have to look at the total situation , which consists of many different duties, instead of just looking at the consequences in order to determine whether the act is morally right.

A reconstruction of the author's argument for prima facie duties goes as follows:

(1) If people sometimes do morally right actions by thinking about what ought to do instead of consequences, then prima facie duties' view is correct.

(2) It is true that sometimes people do morally right actions by thinking about what ought to do instead of consequences.

(3)Therefore, prima facie duties' view is correct.

This argument is clearly valid, for it is an example of a modus ponens argument.

For premise (1), the author argues that if when people deliberate about a promise they have made and during the mind process people do not think about what could produce the best consequences, then it must be the matter itself is innate good/morally right. So, premise (1) is true.

To defend premise (2), Ross refers to a "plain man" making a promise because he thinks he ought to do so with no thought of consequences. He also points out that there are many morally relevant facts (e.g., relationships, friendships) to be taken account into whether one should keep one's promise, although breaking the promise might do substantial good to the society as a whole. Thus, Ross concludes that premise (2) is true, since consequences alone are not the only considerations when judging a moral act.

I think that there are points to argue against premise (1) which makes premise (1) false. Premise (1) says that if the consequence does not affect whether an act is morally right or not, then the act must be intuitively morally right in itself. I will argue against this view by offering another possible explanation of judging moral actions without consequences, which is relativism.

If Ross's view is correct, then everyone in the world should be born with the same intuition about what ought to do as morally right actions. However, the fact is that people from different cultures have different thoughts on some moral issues, while consequences are not the only considerations here as well. For example, some cultures think that abortion is correct because they feel that the meaning of "life" only extends to human beings after they were born into this world. While other cultures think that abortion is morally wrong because it kills a "life".

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