CMSI Handout 12 Marcello Antosh

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1 CMSI Handout 12 Marcello Antosh 1 Garrett Hardin Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping The Poor A. Overview Summary: Hardin argues that we are not morally obligated to aid the very needy people of the world since doing so would probably lead to our own ruin. He further suggests that aiding the very needy might actually be morally wrong, since it would lead to further strains on the environment and scare resources so that we would in fact be harming future generations. Indeed, Hardin implies that for every needy person we save today, there may be many more needy persons in the future who would suffer as a result of our actions. Two especially important sections: the second section (Adrift In A Moral Sea), and the last section (Pure Justice Vs. Reality). B. Introductory Section Hardin s Question: Does everyone deserve a fair share to the Earth s limited resources? If not, who should get what? In particular, should those who have many resources give some to poor countries or to immigrants? The Lifeboat Metaphor: The rich people are on a lifeboat, with little room to spare (i.e. few resources). The poor people are drowning in the sea. To what extent, if any, should the rich save the poor from drowning? C. Adrift In A Moral Sea Charity Might Lead To Ruin: There are limited resources. If we tried to save everyone, we all would die. If we tried to save just enough people, that would not be prudent, since doing so might still end up killing us all. D. Multiplying The Rich And Poor Unfair To Us: If we aided the poor according to a strict principle of equality (each according to his needs), then this would require us to be extremely charitable since the needs of others are so great. But we shouldn t have to give up so many of our goods just because other people are very needy. E. The Tragedy Of The Commons 1

2 The Tragedy Of The Commons: If we make resources available to all, rather than allow for private ownership, then this will probably be worse for each of us. There would be no problem with commonly held resources if everyone was responsible and did not use more than his fair share. But humans can be selfish and use more than their fair share. When they do so, this creates a greater burden on everyone else, and may even result in a total destruction of the resource. This is why commonly held resources (as opposed to privately held ones) would cause a tragedy to occur. F. The World Food Bank The Food For Peace Disaster: There has been a push to create a World Food Bank that would be an international food repository where nations would contribute according to their ability and take according to their needs. Thus, it would be a commonly held resource. But perhaps we shouldn t create such an institution. In the past there was a program that worked on a similar principle, the Food For Peace Program. This program didn t really work. People weren t responsible and it ended up creating more burdens than it relieved. The only people that really benefited were selfish special interest groups. G. Extracting Dollars Expectations: It is reasonable to expect that if we build a World Food Bank, special interest groups will take advantage of the situation. Thus, the program might not even be effective at relieving human suffering. This gives us a reason not to set up such an institution, but, admittedly, this reason is not decisive. H. Learning The Hard Way Emergencies And Exploitation: Before we set up the World Food Bank, we should first consider whether it would create more harm than good. In fact, it is possible that this institution would only be exploited. This institution would probably enable governments to continue their bad practices. In particular, it would allow these governments to have reckless policies and not provide for the basic needs for their people since they would know that they could always come to the World Food Bank for help. So, it might be better not to have this institution after all. Without it, governments would be forced to adapt to their emergencies by setting up good policies that do provide for the basic needs of their people. Otherwise, these governments would fail - and if they do, so what? It s probably best for these bad governments to fail anyway. I. Population Control The Crude Way The Need Would Grow: If we create the food bank, then poor countries and special interest groups will probably exploit it. As a result, the population of poor countries will grow. This in turn makes the need of these poor countries grow. By not creating the food bank, at least the need of the poor nations will not grow. So, in a way it would be better not to create a food bank that would donate food to these poor countries, since at least that way we would not enable them to continue to grow or to pursue unwise social, economic, and population 2

3 policies, and therefore create even more suffering in the future. It is better to let the poor countries starve now and to take care of ourselves. J. Chinese Fish And Miracle Rice More Aid Is Not A Genuine Solution: Some have advocated developing new technologies that would allow for greater food production. This increased supply of food could then be given to the needy. But, again, this may only make the problem worse. When the needy get fed, their population grows unchecked, creating even more needy people. The problem would only grow if we donated resources to these poor countries. K. Overloading The Environment More People Means Worse Quality Of Life: Suppose we do devote more resources to the needy. Then populations will grow tremendously. Since resources are finite, this tremendous growth in population will, in the long run, require the quality of life of everyone to diminish and be quite low. But that s no good. L. A Nation Of Immigrants Immigration Policy: Another way to aid the needy is not to send aid to them, but to allow them to live in our country, where they have a greater opportunity for obtaining resources. If we allow our immigration policy to be to open, then many immigrants will come to our country. Since many current residents now use birth control and many immigrants do not, this might mean that our country will soon be overrun with immigrants. Is this something we want? M. Immigration Vs. Food Supply Drawbacks Of Immigration: There are drawbacks to a liberal immigration policy. Immigrants would be willing to work for low wages that current residents are not. This both exploits these immigrants and takes jobs away from current residents. That s no good. Also, if we allow more immigrants, then there will be fewer resources for the descendants of current residents. That is also no good. N. Pure Justice Vs. Reality What Ethics Demands: Pure justice would demand that each person gets a fair share of resources. But clearly this would lead to disaster: too many people would use their share of resources irresponsibly and this would create problems for the rest of us and for future generations in their own countries as well as ours. So, ultimately, ethics requires that we look out for ourselves and not provide foreign aid or have liberal immigration policies. 2 Larry Temkin Why Should America Care? A. Overview 3

4 Summary: Temkin argues that each of three major types of moral theories seem to imply that we have at least some obligation to aid the needy people of the world. He concludes that since (i) the suffering of these people is great and (ii) we are able to alleviate this suffering, we are blameworthy insofar as we don t. If you can only read two sections: read Sections III and V. B. Part I. Introduction Temkin s Question: What if anything should our reactions be to the fact that each one of us could easily prevent the deaths and suffering of many innocent children? C. Part II. Possible Responses Two Extreme Positions About Aiding The Needy: Do Nothing Extreme: Either (i) we are obligated to do nothing to aid the many needy people of the world, or (ii) we are not obligated to aid or not to aid the needy, but we can do so if we want. Do (Virtually) Everything Extreme: We are morally obligated to do everything we possibly can to aid the needy, even if this requires causing others or ourselves to incur certain lesser harms. Morality is highly demanding, but that s just because of the terrible state of the world. Once the world improves, morality will not be so demanding. Temkin s Claim: It is doubtful that either of these extreme views is correct. The truth is probably somewhere between these two extremes. D. Part III. A Framework Temkin s Pluralistic Model: There are many different considerations that are relevant in determining whether and to what extent we are obligated to helping the world s needy. We should take all of these considerations into account. Generally, these considerations fall into one of three perspectives about morality: Consequentialist Perspective: This concerns how well things go, what the outcomes are, and what happens. Virtue Perspective: This concerns the character of moral agents - whether they are honorable, noble, good, virtuous, vicious, etc. Deontological Perspective: This concerns the specific agent-relative duties that moral agents have. Three Examples: Consider what each of these perspectives seems to require. 4

5 Consequentialist Perspective: It is better that (i) some Americans go without as many luxuries and many indigent people do not die of hunger, disease, and malnutrition than that (ii) these Americans do not go without these luxuries and these indigent people do die of hunger, disease, and malnutrition. Virtue Example: It is more virtuous for a person to (i) aid the needy at some sacrifice to himself than to (ii) never aid the needy. Deontological Example: Suppose that, with equal and minimal effort, you can only do one of the following: (i) save the lives of five strangers, (ii) save one stranger s foot, or (iii) save a new car. It is your duty to save the five strangers rather than to do something else. Failing to save the five strangers would be wrong. Temkin s Conclusion: From each of these perspectives, it seems that there is at least some kind of obligation to help the needy people of the world. E. Part IV. We Could Do Better Important Facts: (1) Americans are extremely wealthy compared to other people of the world. (2) The amount of genuine foreign aid that the government provides is very small, since most of it goes to promoting our own interests (e.g. supporting governments we favor). (3) By choice, the philanthropic contributions of most Americans do not go to the world s indigent - rather, these philanthropic Americans donate to well off or extremely well off organizations (churches, schools, etc.). (4) Americans spend an absurd amount of money on luxury items (small appliances, entertainment, etc.). F. Part V. Conclusion Our Degree Of Blameworthiness: The degree to which we are blameworthy depends, in part, on (i) how great the suffering of the needy really is, and (ii) how easily we would be able to alleviate at least some of this suffering. Since the suffering is tremendous and we are very able to easily alleviate at least some of this suffering, we are greatly to blame insofar as we do little, if anything, to alleviate this suffering. 3 Peter Unger Chapter 1, Living High Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence A. Overview Chapter Summary: Unger observes that it is very cheap and easy for each of us to prevent many people from dying from both acute and chronic causes. Unger then notes a puzzling discrepancy between our intuitive moral judgments about two cases, Shallow Pond and Envelope. Curiously many people judge that there is nothing wrong with failing to send a check that will save the lives of many distant poor people, but it would be seriously wrong to 5

6 fail to save the life of a single person nearby. Unger suggests that our judgments about these cases are being affected by distortional factors and that failing to save these many distant lives is at least as wrong as (and probably more wrong than) failing to save this one nearby life. To show how our intuitive moral judgments can be affected by distortional factors, Unger presents two cases involving slave owners. In one case we do not judge the slave owners s overall conduct as being wrong, simply because it was done when slavery was common practice. But in another case we (correctly) judge that the slave owners s overall conduct as wrong. Unger thinks that since slavery is always a serious wrong, our judgment about the first case must be being influenced by distortional factors. Thus, Unger claims, we cannot always trust our intuitive moral judgments to be reliable. Three sections that are less important than some of the others, and so might just be skimmed: sections 4, 6, and 7. B. Introductory Section A Fact About Donation: By donating a small amount of money (e.g. $100) to efficient aid programs (like those run by Oxfam), each of us can save the lives of many people (e.g. 30). C. Section Million Deaths: In each of the thirty years Unger discusses, ten million children died from easily preventable causes, such as famine, malnutrition, and certain diseases. Ninety percent of these deaths occur in Third World nations. A Lack Of Basic Needs And Not Simply Poverty Is Often To Blame: the per capita (i.e. per person) income in the Indian state Kerala was lower than that of India as a whole. Yet, both the life expectancy and the infant mortality rate in Kerala were much better in this state than in any other Indian state, including the much wealthier ones. A major reason for this is that, in Kerala, the most basic health needs of its citizens are met, while in other Indian states, this is not the case. So, being a very poor person isn t necessarily the cause of many third world deaths. Rather, these deaths are sometimes the result of lacking very basic health needs, like clean water, food, certain vitamins and minerals, and inoculations against diseases, which are all very cheap to provide. Millions Of Easily Preventable Deaths: Each year, millions of people, many of them children, die from the following two kinds of causes, both of which are easily preventable. Chronic Causes: malnutrition, famine, pneumonia, and diarrhea. Acute Causes: measles, tuberculosis, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, and polio. Means Of Easy Prevention: The Chronic Causes require recurring aid. But this aid is extremely cheap. With very little money aid agencies are able to provide basic nutrition and clean water to many people. These sources of aid can drastically cut the number of deaths from the Chronic Causes. Even better, the Acute Causes can be permanently prevented with 6

7 inexpensive vaccinations from efficient vaccination programs already in place. Once someone is vaccinated against any one of these Acute Causes, it is not possible for this person to die from this disease. Two Responses And Unger s Conclusion: Unger notes that after learning about how easy it is to save many lives, people make one of two responses. Unger will argue that the first of these is correct and the second is seriously mistaken. D. Section 2 First Response: It is seriously wrong not to contribute quite a lot in order to prevent these many early deaths. Second Response: Although it is good to contribute in order to prevent these many early deaths, it is not wrong at all to fail to do so - that is, it is not wrong at all to fail to save the lives of these people who will die without our contribution. The Facts About The Current Situation: On any given occasion that we spend money (e.g. to download music, go to the movies, to eat at a restaurant) we aren t doing something that is important either to ourselves, or to anyone else. In fact, for each of us, it would often be no problem at all to do some or even many of our purchases (e.g. do you really need the jacket and the shirt? do you really need both albums?). If we did go without making some of these unimportant purchases, we can donate it instead. By donating this money we could in fact and with certainty save the lives of other people. In particular, we could save the lives of people who will otherwise die from the Acute and Chronic Causes listed above. Singer s Argument: Given these facts about the current situation, Peter Singer argued that it is wrong for us to spend money in the frivolous ways in which we often do, since we could be doing something much more important with this money: saving people s lives. A key premise in his argument is the one below. Singer s Premise: If we can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable significance, we ought to do it - that is, it is wrong for us not to do it. Controversy Over Singer s Premise: Singer s Premise is very general. It applies to any circumstance in which we can prevent something bad without sacrificing anything of comparable significance to ourselves. Many people don t like this premise for the following reason: if it is true, then very often we act wrongly. Many people find such an implication hard to believe. They believe that Singer s Premise only applies to certain situations such as emergencies, or when we are near the potential victim, or when we know the potential victim. Singer s opponents insist that only in these instances would it be wrong for us to fail to make some small sacrifice in order to prevent something terrible from happening. In short, Singer s opponents believe there is a morally significant difference between the two cases below, Shallow Pond and Envelop. Two Important Cases: What are your judgments about the following two cases? 7

8 Shallow Pond: A nearby child is drowning in a shallow pond. You can rush into the pond to save her or not. If you rush into the pond, you will incur a small loss (e.g. ruining your clothes and being late). If you do not rush into the pond, the child will die. You do not rush into the pond and the child dies. Common Intuitive Moral Judgment: It is seriously wrong to fail to rush into the shallow pond to save this child. Envelope: Thirty distant children are dying from some easily preventable cause. If you send a $100 check to a relief agency thirty fewer children will die from some easily preventable cause than would have died had you not sent this check. But, you do not send the check and thirty more children die. Common Intuitive Moral Judgment: It would be generous to send this check, but there is nothing wrong - and certainly nothing seriously wrong - with not doing so. What Many People Believe, And What Unger Believes: If Singer s Premise is true, then failing to save the child in both Shallow Pond and Envelop is wrong. But many people think that there is nothing wrong with failing to save the children in Envelop and that, because of this, there must be a morally significant difference between the two cases and that Singer s Premise must be false. Unger disagrees. He thinks that (i) Singer s Premise is true, (ii) there is no morally significant difference between the two cases, and (iii) it is wrong to fail to save the children in each case. He will argue for these conclusions throughout the book. Many of his arguments are in Chapter 2. E. Section 3 Two Views About Our Intuitive Judgments About Particular Cases: Unger mentions two different views that philosophers have with respect to our intuitive judgments about particular cases. The first view preserves almost all of our intuitive judgments in the sense that it seeks to vindicate, justify, or legitimize these judgments as being accurate and correct reflections of the moral truth. The second view holds that some of our intuitive judgments are accurate reflections of the moral truth, but that others are not. This view seeks to liberate us from these incorrect judgments by exposing how they are the result of morally irrelevant or distortional factors. Preservationism: According to this view, almost all of our intuitive moral judgments about particular cases (such as Shallow Pond and Envelope) are correct. That is, these judgments reveal to us the truth about morality. For example, when we judge that (i) in Shallow Pond, it is wrong to fail to save the child, and (ii) in Envelope it is not wrong to fail to save the child, both of these judgments are accurate reflections of the moral truth. Liberationism: According to this view, it is a complicated matter whether our intuitive moral judgments about particular cases (such as Shallow Pond and Envelope) are correct. That is, sometimes these judgments reveal to us the truth about morality, but sometimes 8

9 they do not - we have to reason carefully to figure out when our judgments are accurate and when they are inaccurate. Challenge For The Liberationist: If our intuitive moral judgments are only accurate sometimes, how do we know which ones are accurate? That is, which intuitive judgments are accurate reflections of the moral truth, and which ones are inaccurate? How do we know whether or not to trust a particular moral judgment? Liberationist s Reply: Some of our intuitive judgments are more fundamental and important. These judgments reflect our Basic Moral Values. These Basic Moral Values are very broad or general principles (about what s good, bad, right, wrong, etc.) rather than specific judgments about particular cases. Sometimes our judgments about particular cases correspond to these more general Basic Moral Values. When this is so, these judgments are correct, accurate, or reliable. But when this is not so, these judgments are mistaken - they are probably mistaken do to our tendency to be biased by morally irrelevant factors. Example: One Basic Moral Value is that it is extremely important to make substantial sacrifices to aid certain people (such as our children) when these people are in great need. Another Basic Moral Value is that it is very important to make at least some sacrifices to aid people in general (even if they are strangers) when they are in great need. A third Basic Moral Value is that it is better if fewer people die or suffer than if more people do. Our intuitive judgments about particular cases are accurate, reliable, or correct insofar as they are consistent with Basic Moral Values like these. Basic Moral Values: These values are our most fundamental and important moral values. Envelope and Liberationism: The Liberationist believes that the common intuitive judgment about envelope is mistaken. The Liberationist believes that this judgment does not reflect our basic moral values but rather is the effect of certain morally irrelevant distortional factors. For the Liberationist, failing to donate the money in envelope is at least as wrong as failing to save the child in Shallow Pond. F. Section 4 Liberationism As Neo-Utilitarianism, Preservationism As Neo- Kantianism: Unger suggests that Preservationists will uphold the legitimacy of our judgments about the wrongness of lying, cheating, and stealing. They will say that doing these things really is wrong even when by doing them we can bring about a better outcome. In contrast, the Liberationist will argue that our intuitive judgments about the wrongness of lying, cheating, and stealing do not actually reflect any moral truth. Rather, they are the result of distortional tendencies. So, Unger's comments suggest that Liberationism is more like utilitarianism since it is greatly concerned with the consequences of our actions. And, Preservationism is more 9

10 like Kantianism since it is greatly concerned with our conduct and less concerned with the consequences of our actions. G. Section 5 Two Puzzles: Unger presents two cases, each of which presents a puzzle. The puzzle is to explain why we make the intuitive moral judgment that we do, in these cases. Unger s solution to these puzzles is basically that our intuitive moral judgments about people s conduct, for instance, can be influenced by morally irrelevant factors. Ordinary Puzzle Of The Great Dead Virginians: Many people judge that the conduct of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson was good and that both were good men. But this judgment is puzzling since both of these men performed actions that we judge to be morally outrageous. Specifically, they each kept hundreds of slaves for many years. How can it be that we judge that both these men and their conduct were good when holding so many slaves for so many years is a serious moral wrong? Any answer to this puzzle must also be consistent with our judgments in the following puzzle, as well. Extraordinary Puzzle Of The Great Dead Virginians And The Imaginary Australians: Suppose that early Australian settlers enslaved the aborigines of Australia. Suppose that this practice continued into the present and that Mary and Paul currently own slaves in Australia. Suppose that apart from their slaveowning Mary and Paul s conduct is much better morally than almost anyone else s. Many people judge that, overall, Mary and Paul's conduct is bad. The Puzzling Questions: First, why do we judge the overall conduct of Mary and Paul negatively but the overall conduct of Jefferson and Washington positively? Second, is there an adequate justification for our differing judgments in these cases and if so what is it? Our Idea Of Moral Progress: There are certain acts that we think are wrong but that past people didn t think were wrong. Many people believe that humanity has morally progressed since we no longer believe it is at all normal for people to perform these wrong acts that were once thought not to be wrong. Our intuitive moral judgments are sometimes influenced by the idea that humanity has progressed and that we behave more morally now that our ancestors did in the past. Unger s Explanation About The Two Puzzles: We give negative assessments to the overall conduct of people who perform certain actions after these actions have come to be widely regarded as bad. We may give positive assessments to the conduct of people who perform certain actions before these actions have come to be widely regarded as bad. Further Support For Unger s Explanation: at the time of Washington and Jefferson, gladiatorial death matches were widely regarded as barbaric. Suppose Washington did not make his slaves fight to the death but Jefferson did. Our judgment and the judgment of people during Jefferson s time might then be that, overall, Jefferson s conduct was morally bad. 10

11 Unger s Suggestion About Our Failure To Aid The Distant Needy: Currently, it is normal for people to fail to aid the distant needy. But in the future such failure may become widely regarded as wrong. In fact failing to aid the distant needy may in the future be regarded as being at least as wrong as slavery. Two Liberationist Lessons: First, in some of the cases considered so far, we have seen how distortional tendencies have caused us to make judgments that do not reflect the moral truth. Second, because of these distortional tendencies we may continue to judge and believe that we do not act wrongly even though our actions are in fact wrong. So, we should be cautious of some of our intuitive moral judgments since they may be unreliable. H. Section 6 Morality And Rationality: Some philosophers think that it is very important to establish that there is a strong connection between morality and rationality. Some even believe that if there is no such connection, then people won't act morally. Unger believes this is false and presents the following case to support his belief. Rival Heirs: You and Timmy are the only heirs to Uncle Sam s fortune. If Uncle Sam dies before Timmy, Timmy gets $9 million and you get $1 million. But if Timmy dies before Uncle Sam, you get $10 million. Right now you see that Timmy is about to drown in a shallow pond. You can easily save Timmy's life. But you can also can let Timmy die without getting into any kind of trouble and without regretting anything since you have already taken a drug that will make you forget the incident entirely. Unger s Claim About Rival Heirs: Clearly it is wrong to let Timmy die. But perhaps it is rational to do so. Even if it is rational to let Timmy die, however, most people in your shoes would save Timmy's life. So it is possible to act morally even if there is no strong connection between morality and rationality that is even if to act morally we must act irrationally. Morality And Truth: Some philosophers debate about whether and in what sense there are moral truths. Unger believes that, for the purposes of his arguments, those debates are irrelevant. He defends his belief with the following consideration: Suppose that we come to believe that there are no objective moral truths. Nevertheless, in various cases, like Rival Heirs, we would still act in ways that we ordinarily think we should. Since we would still act in these ways even if we believed that there were no moral truths, Unger concludes that, for the purposes of his arguments, debates about the nature of moral truths are irrelevant. I. Section 7 Unger s Aim: Unger believes that although Singer s Premise is true, people mistakenly believe it is false on the basis of their intuitive judgments about certain cases. In what follows, Unger will scrutinize these judgments. He will ultimately argue that there is no good 11

12 reason for thinking that when we fail to aid the very needy people of the world we do nothing wrong. 4 Peter Unger Chapter 2, Living High Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence A. Overview Chapter Summary: Unger presents The Puzzle of The Sedan & The Envelope. According to this puzzle, there is reason to think that our intuitive moral judgments about particular cases might sometimes be mistaken. In particular, our judgment that it is not wrong to fail to donate in Envelope might be mistaken. Unger believes it is. He suggests that we only make this judgment because the suffering of the victims in Envelope is not obvious to us, but in Sedan it is - this might be due to certain facts about how we evolved to make moral judgments. To resist the conclusion that our lenient judgment of your conduct in Envelope is not mistaken, the Preservationist must identify some morally relevant difference between Envelope and Sedan that justifies this judgment. There are many differences between the two cases. Unger spends much of the chapter arguing that none of these differences are morally relevant in the way that is required to justify the judgment that it is not wrong to fail to donate in Envelope. Unger concludes that it is wrong to fail to donate in Envelope but that, even if this is correct, this does not commit us to the view that Ethics Is Highly Demanding. To the contrary, it merely commits us to the view that Ethics Is Highly Undemanding. Four or five especially important sections: sections 1, 2, 3, 17, and perhaps 18. To understand what is going on, it may be most useful to read each of these sections twice, or three times rather than to focus on trying to understand the whole chapter equally. Sections 4 through 16 basically involve variations of what goes on in sections 3, 17, and 18. B. Introductory Section C. Section 1 Two Very Important Cases: Unger presents two very important cases, Envelope (which we encountered in chapter 1) and Sedan. Unger observes that our intuitive moral judgments about these two cases present a puzzle. Unger spends the rest of the chapter arguing for one solution to this puzzle. What are your intuitive moral judgments about these two cases? Sedan: A young man who has trespassed in some field has injured himself on a barbwire fence. His life is not in danger of being lost, but his leg is. If you drive him to a hospital, this man s leg will be saved, but the leather seats in your favorite car will be ruined and replacing them will cost $5000. If you do not drive him to a hospital, someone else will do so tomorrow, but this man s leg will have to be amputated. You do not drive him to a hospital and his leg is amputated. 12

13 Common Intuitive Moral Judgment: It is seriously wrong to leave this injured man in the field, thereby allowing him to lose his leg. Envelope: Thirty distant children are dying from some easily preventable cause. If you send a $100 check to a relief agency thirty fewer children will die from some easily preventable cause than would have died had you not sent this check. But, you do not send the check and thirty more children die. Common Intuitive Moral Judgment: It would be generous to send this check, but there is nothing wrong and certainly nothing seriously wrong with not doing so. Important! The Puzzle Of The Sedan & The Envelope: Many people have the following pair of intuitive moral judgments: (i) it would be seriously wrong to fail to save the man s leg in Sedan, but (ii) there is nothing wrong (or at least there is nothing seriously wrong) with failing to save the children in Envelope. But, this is puzzling for many reasons: (a) it is worse to lose a life than to lose a leg and so it is much worse for thirty people to lose their lives than for one person to lose his leg, (b) the thirty children are not in any way responsible for the loss they could incur, but the young man is (he was trespassing), (c) it is a much smaller burden for us to save the thirty lives (we have to take a couple minutes to write and send a $100 check) than for us to save the man s leg (we have to ruin our treasured seats at a cost of $5000 and we have to spend a lot of time driving the man to the hospital). Given all these considerations, why isn t our intuitive moral judgment this?: Failing to send the check is at least as wrong as failing to drive the man to the hospital. D. Section 2 Important! The Challenge For The Preservationist: Recall that, according to Preservationism, our intuitive judgments about particular cases (like Envelope and Sedan) are basically always true. For example, when we intuitively judge that it is wrong not to help the man in Sedan, the Preservationist believes that this judgment is true - it really is wrong not to help the man. But, given The Puzzle Of The Sedan & The Envelope, we have at least some reason to think that our intuitive judgment about Envelope is false: after all, for the reasons listed above, it seems that your conduct in Envelope is worse than your conduct in Sedan. The Preservationist can still be correct, however. To show that Preservationism is correct and thus that your conduct in Envelope really isn t wrong but that your conduct in Sedan is, the Preservationist must identify some feature of Sedan that justifies the intuitive judgment. The challenge is not merely to identify some feature about Sedan that helps to explain why we make the intuitive judgment that we do. (After all, we are after a moral justification of the judgment, not a psychological or biological explanation of why we make the judgment.) Rather, the point is to identify some feature of Sedan that justifies the intuitive judgment as being true. A constraint on any justification that the Preservationist provides is this: the feature or set of features in Sedan that justifies the judgment that your conduct was wrong cannot be present in Envelope. For if this feature or set of features were present in Envelope, then presumably your conduct in that case would also be wrong. But this is precisely what the Preservationist denies. So, in short, to defend Preservationism, the Preservationist must identify a feature of Sedan that is not present in Envelope and which justifies our intuitive 13

14 judgments about the two cases as being true. This feature must therefore be a morally relevant difference between Sedan and Envelope. Different Kinds Of Features: To defend his view, the Preservationist must identify some morally relevant difference between Sedan and Envelope. This morally relevant difference will be represented by a feature that is present in one case but not in the other. There are many features that seem to be present in one case but not in the other. But not all of these features represent a genuine difference between the two cases, much less morally relevant ones. Unger claims that there are three types of features. We will encounter each type of features in the forthcoming sections. Type 1. Illusory Features: These features seem to differentiate Envelope and Sedan, but actually do not. They are illusions in the sense they merely appear to be present in one case but not the other, when in fact they are not present in either case. Thus, these features do not represent differences between Envelope and Sedan, much less morally relevant differences. Type 2. Confused Factors: These features seem to differentiate the two cases, but actually do not. They are present in both Envelope and Sedan, though it may be initially difficult for us to recognize this. Type 3. Genuine Features: These features actually do differentiate the two cases and therefore represent a genuine difference. Regarding this difference, the question is always: is this difference between Envelope and Sedan a morally relevant difference? After all, not all differences between the two cases are morally relevant. For example, the fact that Sedan involves a vintage sedan and Envelope does not is morally irrelevant. In contrast, the fact that the man in Sedan stands to lose only a leg (pun intended) while the children in Envelope stand to lose their lives is a morally relevant difference, since lives matter morally more than legs. (Of course this particular difference does not help the Preservationist, since it seems show that perhaps our judgment about Envelope is mistaken; I point it out only as an example of a morally relevant difference.) Two Main Guides To The Moral Truth: Unger claims that we have two main guides to help us determine what the moral truth really is. Guide 1. Intuitions/Judgments About Particular Cases: These are relatively specific judgments that we have about particular cases. Example Judgment: In Sedan, it s seriously wrong to fail to help the man. Guide 2. General Moral Common Sense: These are relatively general judgments about morality that come from our moral common sense. Unger claims these more general commonsensical judgments more accurately reflect our Basic Moral Values, in part because they are general and therefore less likely to get confused by morally irrelevant details. 14

15 Example Judgment: More of the good is better than less of the good, and it is wrong to harm people for no good reason. Possible Problem: When The Two Main Guides Conflict: Sometimes the judgments from these two main guides seem to conflict (as in the Envelope case). Why is this so? Important! Unger s Hypothesis: When judgments from these two different guides conflict, this is because, in the case being considered, the suffering of the victim is not conspicuous, salient, obvious, or vivid. But the fact that the suffering is not conspicuous to you is morally irrelevant. A Clarification: How Conspicuousness Differs From What We Perceive Fully Or Clearly: When you walk by some poor bum who is lying on the ground in the fetal position in some crime ridden alley off of George Street, you perceive him fully and clearly, but his suffering is not conspicuous to you - it does not stand out as being obvious. In contrast, when you walk by some well-dressed woman who is lying on the ground in the fetal position right outside a luxurious restaurant in SoHo, not only do you perceive her fully and clearly, but her suffering is conspicuous/salient/vivid to you - it stands out as being obvious. Two Possible Solutions To The Puzzle Of The Sedan & The Envelope: Unger mentions two possible solutions to the puzzle. Preservationist Solution: The Preservationist attempts to solve the puzzle by identifying some features that differentiates Sedan and Envelope and then arguing that this feature is morally relevant in such a way that justifies our harsh intuitive judgment of your conduct in Sedan and our lenient intuitive judgment of your conduct in Envelope. Liberationist Solution: The Liberationist attempts to solve the puzzle by (i) offering a debunking explanation as to why we (mistakenly) make the intuitive judgment that we do in Envelope and (ii) arguing that there is no morally relevant difference between the two cases that justifies our harsh intuitive judgment of your conduct in Sedan and our lenient intuitive judgment of your conduct in Envelope. Unger spends the rest of this chapter and parts of others doing (ii). And he does (i) when he offers Unger s Hypothesis, above, which is basically this: for whatever reason (perhaps evolution is partly to blame!) our intuitive moral judgments about particular cases can be mistaken because the suffering of the beings in these cases isn t conspicuous, salient, obvious, or vivid to us. But the fact that this suffering isn t conspicuous is morally irrelevant since the suffering still exists. Unger s Argument In This Chapter In A Nutshell (1) If there is no morally relevant difference between Envelope and Sedan that justifies our intuitive judgments about those two cases, then failing to donate relatively small amounts of money to certain very needy people is at least as wrong as failing to save people s legs from being amputated when doing so is not too much of a burden. 15

16 (2) There is no morally relevant difference between Envelope and Sedan that justifies our intuitive judgments about those two cases. (3) So, failing to donate relatively small amounts of money to certain very needy people is at least as wrong as failing to save people s legs from being amputated when doing so is not too much of a burden. E. Section 3 Comment: The rest of the chapter is dedicated to defending premise (2). His remarks so far have provided defense for premise (1). This argument is valid. So, if the premises are true, then so is the conclusion. Feature 1. Physical Distance: The Preservationists suggests that perhaps your failure to donate the money in Envelope isn t wrong because the potential beneficiaries are very far away from you. And so perhaps your failure to drive the man to the hospital is wrong because the potential beneficiary is very near to you. Unger s Reply: If so, then presumably our intuitive moral judgments would be different if we altered Sedan and Envelope. In particular, if the Preservationist is correct to think that Physical Proximity is what justifies our lenient judgment in Envelope and our harsh judgment in Sedan, then presumably, if the physical distance were shorter in Envelope and longer in Sedan, our judgments would be harsh and lenient, respectively. But this is not so, as we can see by considering the following cases. (This is the form of his reply for many of the features, though he doesn t necessarily present counterexample cases in every instance.) Bungalow Compound (Envelope without great physical distance): Several nearby children (they are literally within a few feet of your current location) are dying from some easily preventable cause. If you send a $100 check to a relief agency several fewer children will die from some easily preventable cause than would have died had you not sent this check. But, you do not send the check and several more children die. Common Intuitive Moral Judgment: It is not wrong at all, and certainly not seriously wrong, for you to fail to send the check. CB Radios (Sedan with greater physical distance): On your radio, a young man who has trespassed in some field has injured himself on a barbwire fence. His life is not in danger of being lost, but his leg is. You are ten miles away from him (i.e. the distance is shorter than the Bungalow Compound!). If you drive him to a hospital, this man s leg will be saved, but the leather seats in your favorite car will be ruined and replacing them will cost $5000. If you do not drive him to a hospital, someone else will do so tomorrow, but this man s leg will have to be amputated. You do not drive him to a hospital and his leg is amputated. Common Intuitive Moral Judgment: It is seriously wrong for you to fail to drive this man to a hospital. 16

17 Feature 2. Social Distance: perhaps the morally relevant difference is that in Sedan the young man is (probably) from your society or nation, whereas in Envelope this is (probably) not the case. Unger s Reply: But this is doubtful. Suppose that the children in Envelope are from your society or nation - I bet the common intuition remains the same: that it is not wrong, and certainly not seriously wrong to fail to donate. And also consider this counterexample. In this case many of us still think it s wrong to fail to save this socially distant fellow. Long Drive (Sedan with great social distance): The same as Sedan except for this difference: you are on a long road trip from your home in New Jersey to the tip of South America. While driving in South America, you encounter the injured man - he is from Bolivia (unless you are partly Bolivian, in which case he s from Uruguay, unless you are too, in which case he s from Paraguay, unless you are too in which case, etc.). You do not drive him to a hospital and his leg is amputated. Common Intuitive Moral Judgment: It is seriously wrong for you to fail to drive this man to a hospital. Feature 3. Informative Directness: Perhaps the morally relevant difference is that in Sedan you learn of the young man s suffering directly from the young man. But this is not so in Envelope. Unger s Reply: Informative directness can be a morally relevant difference, but only when it affects your level of certainty about what the consequences of your actions will be. But we re supposing (as is in fact the case!) that in Envelope you will certainly save the lives of children. In cases in which certainty is not at issue, informative directness is irrelevant, as we can tell from our General Moral Common Sense: after all, people are suffering and this shouldn t have to continue, and all this is true regardless of whether we learn of this directly or not. Feature 4. Experiential Impact: Perhaps the morally relevant difference is that in Sedan you experience of the young man s suffering directly - you are right there, you see the man bleeding! But this is not so in Envelope. Unger s Reply: As with informative directness, experiential impact can be a morally relevant difference, but only when it affects your level of certainty about what the consequences of your actions will be. But we re supposing (as is in fact the case!) that in Envelope you will certainly save the lives of children. In cases in which certainty is not at issue, experiential impact is irrelevant, as we can tell from our General Moral Common Sense: after all, people are suffering and this shouldn t have to continue, and all this is true regardless of whether we experience them suffering or not. F. Section 4 17

18 Feature 5. Disastrous Further Future: the preservationist might suggest that the morally relevant difference between sedan and envelope is this. If you give aid to children in the envelope case, this will create a disaster in the further future, as the children you aid today will almost certainly also have very poor children who will die unless they receive aid and it is better to help none of these people to prevent the future from being even more disastrous than the present (you should recognize this kind of line from Hardin). Unger s Reply: First, empirical evidence (from Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, no less!) suggests that providing aid to the very needy people can help stabilize populations and that when populations are stabilized, the quality of life of these populations vastly improves (life expectancy increases, literacy increases, etc.). Second, a theoretical reply: Suppose for the moment that if we do not ignore the children currently in need by throwing away the envelope, the children we save to day will, in fact, have needy children of their own, so that the future would be even more disastrous than the present. And suppose we think that this is a morally relevant difference between the envelope case and Sedan. In particular, suppose we think THIS is what justifies our behavior in the case of envelope. But now consider long drive. Suppose it is true of the Bolivian in long drive that if you drive him to a hospital he will have needy children in the future, but if you do not he won t. Nevertheless it would still be wrong to fail to drive him to a hospital. Q.E.D. Take that, Hardin! G. Section 5 Feature 6. Uniqueness Of Potential Savior: Perhaps the morally relevant difference is that in Sedan you are the unique potential savior (of the man s leg) whereas in Envelope, you are not - other people could donate. Unger s Reply: But, we know that in Envelope no one will in fact provide aid. Or, at least we can create a parallel case in which this is true and yet this does not change our intuitive moral judgment. Further consider the following case, which is like Sedan, but in which you are not the unique potential savior and yet our intuitive judgment remains the same: it is seriously wrong not to help the man. H. Section 6 The Wealthy Drivers (Sedan without unique potential saviors): You are 10 miles away from the injured man. Three other drivers are 5 miles away from the injured man and each of these other drivers are far wealthier than you are. All of you hear the injured man s distress call on the radio. The other drivers complain that they do not want to get involved. You hear this but do not drive this man to hospital. None of the other drivers helps him either, so his leg is amputated. Common Intuitive Moral Judgment: It is (still) wrong of you not to drive this man to a hospital. 18

19 Thought: Government s Responsibility: It may not be a feature that distinguishes the two cases but it is a thought: Look, Unger, it s the government s responsibility to provide aid to needy people! Unger s Reply: It may be true that governments should provide aid to the needy more than they actually do. So perhaps these governments are acting wrongly. Perhaps they are even acting more wrongly than we are since it is easier for them to provide aid. But their wrong behavior is irrelevant in regards to our responsibility. Our failure to donate is still wrong, regardless of whether governments donate, precisely because the need exists. I. Section 7 Feature 7. Number Of Needy: Perhaps the relevant difference is that in Sedan a single individual is in need while in Envelope multiple individuals are in need. Unger s Reply: This is either confusion or an illusion: In fact many people are in need all the time. J. Section 8 Feature 8. The Continuing Mess: Perhaps the relevant difference is that regardless of what you do in Envelope, the problem of disease and malnutrition will persist. But, in Sedan, you can completely resolve a particular problem by driving this man to the hospital. Unger s Reply: This is either a confusion or an illusion. Both the children and the trespasser were each part of continuing mess or ongoing problem, namely, the problem of people suffering. Just as children will die of malnutrition and disease regardless of what you do, people will lose legs regardless of what you do. And besides, General Common Moral Sense tells us that whether you can neatly fix some problem or not doesn t matter, morally - rather, that s just some perfectionist tendency of yours. K. Section 9 Feature 8. Emergency!: Perhaps the relevant difference is that in Sedan there s an emergency but in Envelope there is not. Unger s Reply: First, General Moral Common Sense tells us that whether or not there is an emergency shouldn t matter. What matters is that people seriously need help and we can easily provide it. Second, in fact things are worse in Envelope than they are in Sedan precisely because there isn t an emergency! In Sedan there is an emergency because things were going reasonably well for the man and then all of a sudden things got worse for him and he had an important need to be met. In Envelope things are different. These children were not doing well. Rather for a long time their needs have not been met and they have been suffering seriously. So the situation has been worse for them their situation has been a chronic horror! But the fact that things have been much worse for these children (they've been living in a chronic horror) provides us with even more reason to think that it is more 19

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