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Variations on Some Rossian Themes

In this dissertation, I develop and defend some of W. D. Ross’s moral views. Ross’s views, I argue, are often highly plausible, though it is also often the case that variations on (or modifications to) his views are needed in order to remain philosophically tenable. In my dissertation, I explain why these variations are necessary and what they should look like. In chapter 1, I discuss Ross’s theory of moral rightness in his most important work, The Right and the Good. In chapters 2 and 3, I correct various misunderstandings about Ross’s position: I argue that he is no more a particularist about absolute duty than a utilitarian or a Kantian is, and on many definitions of “pluralism” present in the literature, he is not in fact a pluralist, as he is typically assumed to be. In chapter 4, I discuss several objections that Ross later comes to make to his own theory of rightness; I argue, however, that none of them are any good. In chapter 5, I argue against Ned Markosian’s recent claim that “Rossian Minimalism” is the best theory of rightness that makes use of the concept of a prima facie duty: Ross’s own theory (or, at least, a “world” version of it) is, I maintain, superior to Rossian Minimalism. In chapter 6, I address some objections to Ross’s theory suggested by Michael Stocker and Michael Slote and demonstrate that the best way of responding to them is by transforming Ross’s theory into a “dual-ranking” one. In chapter 7, I discuss Ross’s theory of the subjective sense of “right” (chapters 1-6 are primarily concerned with Ross’s theory of the objective sense of the term). I show that Ross’s theory is problematic, and I offer a better theory in its place. In chapter 8, I turn to Ross’s theory of moral goodness. I argue that his theory is more plausible than other theories suggested in the literature, but it suffers from the “nepotism problem.” I show that Ross’s solution to this problem is unsatisfactory and suggest a better way forward.
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