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Gone Baby Gone, Kant's Categorical Imperative, Prima Facie: Moral Dilemma on Doing Right Thing for Wrong Reason (II)

Updated on July 16, 2012

Moral Dilemma - What is a Moral Right?

Moral philosophy is not only about Kantian moral philosophy. While I wrote an article with the movie spoiler Gone Baby Gone (I admit that it is not as professional as Yahoo! Movie review), I feel that Kant's view of duty is too absolute. He believes that our moral duty is categorical imperative and he only believes doing right things for the right reasons, period.But, can examine philosophically that we can do right things for the wrong reasons?

Prima Facie Duties

Sir William David Ross does not like Kant’s idea at all. He holds his pluralistic theory of duty and disagrees Kant’s categorical imperative hardly. Ross thinks it is possible for individuals to do right things for wrong reasons. The question of moral duties or right acts is not based on what we ought to do them, but it is based on what makes them what they are.

Kant believes there is only one duty for us, but Ross thinks there are many duties for us to follow.

  1. Fidelity: The duty to be honest, to fulfill promises, etc.
  2. Benevolence: The duty to help others or improve the condition of others.
  3. Non-malfeasance: The duty not to harm, hurt, or injure others.
  4. Reparation: The duty to make good any not intentional harm that has done by another.
  5. Justice
  6. Gratitude: The duty to repay others for their acts of kindness.

Ross calls all these duties as prima facie duties, and it plays a role in determining the content of what we morally ought to do.Given this definition aprima facieis fundamentally different from actual duty or duty proper. These duties are not absolute. We must fulfill any of these duties when we have it.

So far, I am sure you notice that there is a problem ofprima facieduties. What should one do if duties come into conflict. Ross claims that when these duties sometimes come into conflict, we need to choose only one duty over another. He thinks that we need to rank thoseprima facieduties and choose one in which has the highest rank.

Are we that Rational?

I cannot deny that there are many different kinds of duties. But, what I see Ross's theory is that it does not absolutely tell us what have to do by any given situation. Under this circumstance, ones are impossible to be rational enough in choosing which duty is more preferable. InGone Baby Gone,Patrick (Casey Affleck) may be rational enough to realize his duty to report Jack (Morgan Freeman) to police. But, what if he is not as rational as you think? What if he believes that being honest and fulfilling promises is the most important duty than others?

In Kant's view, it is not possible for a rational being to choose which duty is more preferable, unless the options are deliberatively commensurable. I cannot deny that Kant gives a better and clear guideline to everyone and tell us what we absolutely must do in any circumstances.

Prima Facie Right & Prima Facie Wrong

Although Ross was born in 1800s, he knew we would criticize like that today. He replied the above criticism that act is possible to beprima facie rightorprima faciewrong. It depends upon how a person looks at these duties.

When we say "Patrick is doing wrong thing," Ross holds different approach. In Patrick's view, he takes "if I gave Helene her promise, I have the duty to keep it" at his first place. He believes this duty is right. Ross thinks that our duty is aiming at what is right. Also, our duty is not absolute, we aim at doing what is likely to produce what is right. So, it is possible for Patrick to hold wrong decision to do right things, or right reason to do wrong things. In Ross perspective, Patrick ranks the duties of what he ought to do. Namely, theprima facieduty of promise keeping is the highest duty for Patrick.

Principle for actual moral obligation?

On the other hand, Ross thinks that there is no reason to assume the general principle for determining the actual moral obligations. It is simply because there is no way to define a principle for every situation. Ross's account does not only the problem of absolute duty, but it also shows that there is no way for us to adopt any general rule to solve all ethical problems.

Ross's view demonstrates we have to judge and rank the moral standards in different situation. The same standard in two different situations can be right on one, but wrong in others.

Is Prima Facie accurate?

One can also argue that Ross presupposes and assumes that the list of prima facie duties is accurate. When we rank these prima facie duties in certain situations, it can be problematic.

To me, Ross's moral theory primarily show us there are many moral standards for us. When we recognize that something should be as a prima facie duty, we actually understand what self-evident is, and it needs not to be explained. Certain actions are morally significant in certain situations. Ross's view holds that there is a moral theory available only when we consider the moral convictions, it is necessary to think seriously and examine which duty is more significant and important in particular situation.

Last Words

In short, Gone Baby Gone provides a good example to show the moral dilemma of whether we can do right things for right reasons only or can do right things for wrong reasons. Prima Facie gives us a non-absolute moral account to explain what Patrick does in the movie controversial, whereas, Kantian's absolute view leads to many problematic explanation nowadays.


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      Cassidy Beamish 3 years ago

      I enjoyed reading both of your posts on here. I just did a paper last week on ethical and moral dilemmas in gone baby gone and a couple other movies for my criminal justice class.

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