Living High and Letting Die

Living High and Letting Die : Our Illusion of Innocence

3.85 (147 ratings by Goodreads)
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Unger contends that our institutions about ethical cases are generated not by basic moral values, but by certain distracting moral mechanisms that encourage deceptive reactions.

In the first part of the book, he argues that, appearances to the contrary, our basic moral values are quite close to what philosophers now call act consequentialism. He details the nature of the most potent of the mechanisms that cause us to have false intuitions, and explains how, by blinding us to our basic moral values, they generate those reactions.

In the second part of the book Unger proposes a complex and novel metaethics, arguing that each of us can easily generate either a lenient or tough context for our ethical assessments. In Unger's view we almost always generate lenient contexts, in which we can correctly make permissive judgments about our behaviour. If we generate tough contexts, however, we will judge our ordinary behaviour to be morally wrong. Even while we can allow that most of our moral judgements to date have been
correct, we can still assert that our basic moral values, and so most likely ethical reality itself, are actively compassionate and very demanding of us.

Unger's conclusions - that many of our moral judgements are in error, and accordingly much of our behaviour is grossly immoral - will be controversial and have a strong impact on the field of ethics.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 200 pages
  • 160 x 242 x 20mm | 474g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • line figures
  • 0195075897
  • 9780195075892
  • 2,828,342

Back cover copy

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? To such common cases of letting die, our untutored response is that, while it's not very good, neither is the conduct wrong. How can we best explain this lenient intuitive assessment? In this hard-hitting new book, philosopher Peter Unger argues that, all too often, our moral intuitions about cases are generated not by the basic moral values we hold, but by psychological dispositions that prevent us from reacting in accord with our deep moral commitments. Through a detailed look at how these disorienting tendencies operate, Unger reveals that, on the good morality we already accept, our fatally unhelpful behavior is monstrously wrong. Confronting us with both arresting facts and easily followed instructions for lessening the suffering of youngsters in mortal danger, Living High and Letting Die can help us live the morally decent lives that agree with our wonderfully deep, and deeply wonderful, true moral values.
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Review quote

A book on a topic of great importance, written with much moral passion by a skilful and ingenious philosopher. * London Review of Books, 4 September 1997 * Fascinating new book. What is most exciting about Unger's book is that he seeks to use a paradigmatically non-consequentialist moral method to establish a quintessentially consequentialist conclusion... intriguing new ethical methodology. Unger's conclusion is unsettling, and the arguments he advances in favour of it engaging, original, and thought-provoking. * Tim Mulgan, Mind Vo.109 No.434 * One of the most significant works of ethics published this decade. * Peter Singer, London Review of Books *
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About Peter Unger

Peter Unger is Professor of Philosophy at New York University. He is the author of Ignorance (OUP 1975, 2002), Philosophical Relativity (1984, OUP 2002), and Identity, Consciousness, and Value (OUP 1990).
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Rating details

147 ratings
3.85 out of 5 stars
5 33% (49)
4 33% (48)
3 23% (34)
2 7% (11)
1 3% (5)
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