In Ross's discussion of moral epistemology in What Makes Right Acts
Right?, he makes a number of claims for moral objectivity and a set of prima facie duties. In Ross's view, these prima facie duties should govern how we behave in every sort of moral situation. Much of
Ross's argument depends on this duties being innate and objective. This paper will criticize Ross's claims, specifically on the grounds of the existence and objectivity of these prima facie duties. I intend to show that Ross's comparisons about prima facie duties and mathematical axioms are baseless and false.
In order to criticize Ross's claims, we must first discuss exactly what he says in What Makes Right Acts Right?. Ross claims that there are some of
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If we look to the definition of a triangle, we see that it too has an arbitrary definition: three lines forming a closed polygon. From here, we could descend even further into the recurrence by discussing the meaning of a polygon or even a line, but it should be clear that this process would be futile. If this example is not satisfying, consider a discussion of the measure of a degree as its definition is even more perplexing. We see here that even the axioms of geometry are as arbitrary and manufactured as any other law and are only considered as infallible truths so that we may do more interesting mathematics. If these building blocks of mathematics are not innate or self-evident, how could Ross's prima facie duties possibly be? This brings to light another contrast between the axioms of mathematics and prima facie duties, namely that one is currently a constructed un-changing list and the other is a hotly contested topic of debate. In humanity's history as ethical beings (surely longer than our history as mathematical beings) morality and ethics have been debated and fought over. In mathematics, although through much debate, the laws have become agreed upon and objective in a relatively short time. This certainly seems to support the notion that moral laws and mathematical axioms are not quite that similar and that mathematical axioms are somehow stronger than Ross's idea of