mitchell vitez

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Living High and Letting Die

This book is somewhere between an ever-escalating series of weirder and weirder trolley problems, and a plea for charitable giving (specifically, writing a check to orgs that help those in poverty). It contains the address to UNICEF about ten times.

Projective separation is a pretty good idea. Basically, we intuitively decide who’s relevant to a moral decision (and who isn’t) in a haphazard way. The fact that adding intermediate cases to a decision sometimes makes it easier to go for the extreme solution was revealing. Basically, we can build a bridge between doing nothing, and e.g. severely harming one to save many, by constructing a spectrum in between, rather than a simple dilemma.

Unger’s “protophysics” was an interesting concept I hadn’t encountered before. Basically, misguided physical intuitions sometimes carry over into ethical decisionmaking. For example, it somehow seems morally worse to push a person into an oncoming object, than to push an object into an oncoming person.

This book was failing to convince me to take it very seriously until maybe the last fifteen pages. Unger admits that he doesn’t expect anyone (even himself) to be able to actually live this way. He recognizes that the book isn’t meant for general audiences (and wouldn’t convince them), but is meant to stretch the thinking of fellow philosophers. He essentially admits that we are pretty much all constantly in the moral wrong, but unfortunately doesn’t solve the problem of to what degree we can get out of that hole.

The emphasis on how big the problems are, and that they are true moral wrongs, while at the same time treating them as just a series of philosophical puzzles that show our intuitions can fail, is a little bizarre, and not fully reconciled in my opinion. I would recommend it to people who need fodder against moral intuitionism though.