- Paperback: 200 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (June 20, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195108590
- ISBN-13: 978-0195108590
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.6 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #344,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence 1st Edition
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"Unger has pioneered a new way of testing and exploring our intuitions, with results that are devastating for traditional ideas of how to do ethics. This will shake normative ethics to its roots. A major work of fundamental importance both to moral philosophy and to the poor of this world. Important in a practical way, as well as in an academic way."--Peter Singer, Princeton University
"A terrifically powerful piece of work, and its publication will make a nuclear-sized explosion."--Jonathan Bennett, Syracuse University
"Unger's vigorous investigation of irrationalities in our daily thinking...suggests convincingly that we owe others far more than we typically think we do. This, then, is a book on a topic of great importance, written with much moral passion by a skillful and ingenious philosopher."--Martha Nussbaum, London Review of Books
"A very fine book...carefully argued, imaginative, fearless."--David Lewis, Eureka Street
"[Unger's] discussion of how much the well-off should sacrifice for the world's most needy stands as the state-of-the-art treatment of the subject."--Brad Hooker, Times Literary Supplement
"Unger's book is full of subtle and oddly entertaining cases to support his view....[He handles conterarguments] with stunningly effective simplicity."--Globe and Mail
"Unger challenges our moral beliefs with arguments that are always powerful, and often original. Everyone who can understand these arguments ought, I believe, to read and think about this book."--Derek Parfit, author of Reasons and Persons
"Living High & Letting Die will annoy many students and faculty--which is a good thing. Unger challenges and illuminates our moral thinking in a direct, forceful way, causing students to engage in moral reasoning and moral psychology with more passion than is ordinarily the case. I used Unger's book alongside a standard anthology in ethical theory in An Introduction to Ethics course. The book's presentation is clear and understandable to undergraduates, and the examples are interesting, thought-provoking, and make doing philosophy fun. Challenge and incite your students with this book!"--Tobyn DeMarco, Hunter College, City University of New York
"Students either love or hate Living High & Letting Die--bored indifference is not an option. Unger's book prods, provokes, infuriates, and inspires. His ingenious and passionate arguments compell students to examine their beliefs as precious few do. They illustrate the significance and urgency of ethical decision-making, and powerfully demonstrate that philosophy can be much more than an abstract, theoretical, barren discipline."--Larry Temkin, Rice University
From the Back Cover
By sending a few hundred dollars to a group like UNICEF, any well-off person can ensure that fewer poor children die, and that more live reasonably long, worthwhile lives. But even when knowing this, almost all of us send nothing and, among the contributors, most send precious little. What's the moral status of this behavior?
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Other readers claim that the book's arguments rest on poorly supported utilitarian premises. Although Dr. Unger does work from a utilitarian frame of reference, I believe the logic of his arguements stand alone and the same conclusions could be reached using a different ethical framework.
It is common for ethicists to construct elaborate theories that explain why the conventional wisdom and practices of society are morally correct. Dr. Unger's contrarian view is both controversial and important. I can imagine that some readers will find the position taken in this book difficult to accept because it makes us question the morally upstanding life that most of us assume we are living.
Although this book is intended for the academic philosopher, it deserves to be read by a much larger audience.
Importantly, Unger does not derive his conclusion from a controversial theory such as utilitarianism. Rather, he begins by considering (e.g.) the suggestion that the pond case and the Oxfam case differ in terms of one's physical proximity to the victim (i.e. the person in need of aid). He then considers multiple cases that differ *only* in terms of one's physical proximity to the victim, noting that one's moral obligations are not affected. He concludes that physical proximity to the victim is not morally relevant. He does this with a variety of the differences between the pond case and the Oxfam case.
Unger also considers differences between the pond case and the Oxfam case that *are* morally relevant, e.g. the relative certainty of being able to save the victim's life. He then asks (e.g.) whether we would be obligated to dive into the pond if we were unsure whether we would be able to save the child's life. Obviously the answer is "yes." Again, Unger does this with a variety of the differences between the pond case and the Oxfam case. He concludes that we have a moral obligation to send aid to the distant needy.
This book is an important, readable, and concise reply to those who claim that Peter Singer's pond case and the Oxfam case are not analogous.
Anyone who knows enough about this book to have read this far ought to read and grapple with the arguments presented in this book. Some of the more radical positions he defends may in the end turn out to be wrong but I think they certainly cannot be dismissed out of hand. This book will prove to be valuable to anyone concerned with doing the right thing as well as to intellectuals interested in the place of moral intuitions in moral inquiry (and as Unger points out, the dangers of relying too heavily on certain of those intuitions).
Similarly, Unger's conclusion that EACH well-to-do person ought to surrender the bulk of his wealth does not entail that ALL well-to-do persons ought to surrender the bulk of their wealth.
Unger's argument allows for the possibility that somewhere along the way it would be counter-productive to transfer wealth (for any number of reasons). What's at stake is the here and now, when the child's drowning and nobody's budging.