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Prima Facie Duties

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Various moral theories have attempted to explain, codify, and analyze our fundamental duties – that is, our most pressing moral obligations. Naturalistic theories try to explain duties as they relate to human nature or human needs. More traditional theories purport to draw duties from religious or political ideologies, in the service of what God demands or what our world ought to be.

The apparently simple concept of a duty breaks down into quite specific variations upon even cursory analysis. A positive duty is an obligation to act in a certain way. A negative duty is an obligation to refrain from acting in a certain way. In their strongest form, both positive and negative duties oblige us always, absolutely, in every situation. Prima facie duties, on the other hand, are sensitive to the varying demands of situation and context. Whether positive or negative, whether an obligation to do or not do something, a prima facieduty makes its demands “on the face of it,” providing reasons to...

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Potter, M.K. (2011). Prima Facie Duties. In: Chatterjee, D.K. (eds) Encyclopedia of Global Justice. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-9160-5_365

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