Ross’s moral theory as a form of deontology and not consequentialism
The concept of deontology is one of the most debated concepts in philosophical ethics. Deontology revolves around the morality of actions of people in society. The question that is answered by the deontologists concerns the basis on which acts can be classified as either right or wrong. W. D Ross is one of the renowned philosophers who have developed several theses on the concept of deontology.
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The theory of Ross is founded on the opposition of the argument by Moore, who sought to justify actions based on the impact and not the factors that motivate an individual to engage in such an act. This is referred to as consequentialism. According to Ross, no particular moral action can be justified without measuring the competing moral reason in each of the actions. The relative weight of a given moral action ought to be the main factor on which the moral justification of the action is based.
Ross opposes the principles on which consequentialist concepts are grounded. The principle of good that entails pleasure, friendship, knowledge, beauty, and creativity is subjected to criticism by Ross. According to Moore, there is one basic moral principle, which is the promotion of good. Ross seeks to differentiate between the prima facie duty and actual duty. Ross presents a catalog of the way in which these conditional duties can be presented to pay respect to the moral obligations in actions.
There is an argument by the proponents of consequentialism that the deontological thesis by Ross echoes the arguments in the theory of consequentialism. Ross digs deeper into the moral connectedness of actions and the rationalization of moral actions through a set of comparisons that are done between different actions. What ought to be observed at this point is that most of the arguments by Ross emanate from the way in which the concept of consequential ethics is presented.
Therefore, opposition to the arguments that are presented in consequentialism results in bringing out a number of the consequential arguments in Ross’s deontology. Deontology, as argued by Ross, opines that there are different relative moral reasons that are relied upon in qualifying a moral action.
Consequentialism is based on a single reason in which the aspect of comparison of the courses is demeaned, thereby making it incomplete in qualifying moral acts. The actions of people are triggered by different situations and result in different impacts. This is why comparing different ethical causes is important in moral ethics as argued by Ross.
The exploration of the prima facie duty and the actual duty in moral ethics can be used to justify the distinction between Ross’s deontology and consequentialism. Prima facie duty, according to Ross, is a feature that is utilized in right-making. The right-making aspect entails actions that are grounded on moral reasons to perform the action rather than focusing on the aftermath of the action; consequence as opined by the consequentialist theorists.
Acting in the right way entails balancing of diverse obligations. Actions vary, and so are the reasons why there is a need to establish the grounds on which a given individual decides to take part in an action. The solid stance of all actions is that they have to play a role in reducing human suffering, which is the reason as to why prima facie duties in moral courses are given a lot of attention in deontology.
Ross brings out certain actions that are critical in the classification of the action as a prima facie right. These actions are based on relations between people. They include fidelity, reparation, and gratitude. These emanate from the special obligation of individuals in relations and depict the need to embrace special care or fairness in actions.
The prima facie rights in each situation are often given priority in justifying moral actions. This implies that the absolute obligation depends on the prima facie duty. However, it should be noted that there are other general obligations that fall under special obligations. These include justice, beneficence, self-improvement, and observing the principle of pacifism when engaging in or performing an act.
Therefore, the maximization of good as argued by Moore in consequentialism forms one of the prima facie in Ross’s moral theory. This guides individual on the actions that they are supposed to take in a given situation. The reason why Ross classifies the moral obligations is that each of the obligations has a given level of impact as far as the moral obligation of human beings is concerned. The issue of weighing ought the obligations come in at this point.
Some obligations may seem to have a similar level of weight in a number of instances. For instance, certain situations may require the observation of justice as well as fidelity. In such scenarios, the moral ground becomes wider and the justification of moral obligations comes out of comprehensive rationality of the prima facie obligations.
Why is the moral theory by Ross a deontological concept rather than consequentialism?
As observed earlier, the moral theory by Ross comes from the critique of the consequentialist theory. According to Ross, it is quite daunting for one to identify and set apart his or her moral duty in a situation. The deontological theory, as opined by Ross, recognizes the fact there has to be a good reason for any act, which results from setting the goals of the act on given reasons that are morally justifiable.
Therefore, it is worthwhile to argue that there is a closer relationship between deontology and consequentialism. Deontology gives more detail on the moral ethics environment by adding moral concepts to the consequential theory. Deontology looks at the other side of moral ethics that is ignored by the consequentialists.
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The deontological explanation does not completely ignore the explanation that is given in consequentialism, but it seeks to expand the rational space on which the arguments can be more reliable in exploring the ethical environment.
Moral reasoning, which is suppressed in consequentialism, is opened up by way of identifying the modalities on which moral obligations are justifiable. The reason for classifying the moral obligations is to avoid reliance on the general obligations, which when used can imply more good. This sets apart the moral theory by Ross from the consequentialist theory by Moore.
The prima facie obligations are evident in a given action. Certain forms of actions can never be clearly classified as right or wrong as done in the consequentialist theories. The moral theory by Ross does not categorize actions into moral sets without digging deep into the moral comparisons to determine the intensity of the reasons that accrue to the act and the rate at which these actions support the moral duty of people.
Strong points and the weak points of Ross’s moral theory
The main strength of the deontological concept is that it expands the ground of moral reasoning by offering space for moral reasoning in moral ethics. Therefore, it becomes possible to rationalize the moral obligations through relating them with different moral stances in the society.
This is a contradiction of consequentialism, which only pays attention to the aftermath of actions that can result in moral breaches in society. It is easy to derive moral order from moral reasoning. Therefore, deontology is a grounded theory as far as the development of moral ethics in society is concerned.
Ross seeks to classify acts. Ross supports that a certain act can be justifiable even when the act produces effects that are less desirable than the impacts that can be derived from other actions. This is expounded by the prima facie obligation concept by Ross. This raises several questions on whether there is an actual ground on which moral obligations can be ranked and the best obligations chosen from among the obligations.
Based on this, it can be argued that deontology is not complete in itself, in spite of the fact that it offers more details about the basis on which the moral good of action can be determined. The other problem with deontology is the apprehension of the prima facie moral obligations as self-evident. It is argued that this is one way of limiting reason.
The reason is the bridge through which the deontological explanation of moral ethics has been derived from the other moral theories. Ross embraces the observation of morality, but he does not explain the essence of adhering to morality.