Prima Facie Duties Correlated With Ethical Theories

Slight Revision September 18, 2002

W. D. Ross' seven prima facie duties and the three other prima facie duties introduced in the web page on the prima facie duties approach did not just fall from the sky. Most of them are taken from principles that, at one time or another, have been proposed as the central obligation in the moral life.

If instead we start out from a theory that lists these prima facie duties, the other various ethical theories could be understood as elaborating one or more of the prima facie rules from a particular perspective. The table below shows how several of the prima facie duties can be correlated with those ethical theories.

Prima Facie DutyRelated Theory or Analysis
FidelityKantian Ethics
JusticeJustice, John Rawls
Respect for FreedomLibertarianism, Capability Theory, John Rawls
BeneficenceUtilitarianism, Capability Theory, Virtue Ethics
Non-InjurySame as for Beneficence
Self-ImprovementCapability Theory, Virtue Ethics, Egoism
Non-Parasitism Kantian Ethics
Reparation(Compensatory) Justice

Note: Some theories may be narrower in focus than the corresponding prima facie duty. Utilitarianism, for instance, favors promotion of pleasure or preference satisfaction, and aims to prevent pain or dissatisfaction, but it does not regard things like virtue or knowledge as goods in themselves or moral vice or ignorance as evils in themselves.

J. Garrett, September 16, 2002