The philosopher W.D. Ross discusses the relationship between two types of duty. What is the distinction between the “parti-resultant” and “toti-resultant” attributes of a given action?

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In The Right and the Good, W.D. Ross writes that:

We have to distinguish from the characteristic of being our duty that of tending to be our duty.

If an action is our duty, then it is toti-resultant. This is an attribute "which belongs to an act in virtue of its whole nature and of nothing less than this." A parti-resultant action, by contrast, is one which tends to be our duty because of one component in its nature, though other components may run counter to this.

Ross is considering, and differing from, Kant's categorical imperative here. He says that it is sometimes right to tell a lie or break a promise if, for instance, one does so to relieve the suffering of another. However, when we tell a lie to relieve suffering, we still recognize our general duty to tell the truth. Any action we take is made up of various elements, which tend to be either right or wrong. Different elements of certain activities may be in conflict with each other. For example, he act of telling a lie tends to be wrong, whereas the act of relieving suffering tends to be right. Telling a lie in order to relieve suffering, therefore, is parti-resultant because it is right by virtue of one of its components, even though the other is wrong. If it were completely right, and therefore entirely in accordance with our duty, it would be toti-resultant.

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