University of Kansas, Spring 2004
Philosophy 555: Justice and Economic Systems

Test Preview / Paper Assignment—Unger

For the Unger part of the course, your assignment is either to take the test or to write a paper on Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence. You have to do the analogue of whichever option you didn’t pick for the Nozick assignment, so that, when the course is over, you’ll have taken two tests (one on Rawls and one on Nozick or Unger) and written two papers (one on Rawls and one on Nozick or Unger).

I. Test

The test will consist of 100 points’ worth of questions, including at least 60 points’ worth of the following questions. The remaining questions may be similar to these, or of a different format.

  1. (20 points:) Summarize Living High and Letting Die. Keep this brief—no more than, say, one sentence per chapter or two, presented so that collectively your paragraph (or maybe two) describes the overall trajectory (not necessarily many of the details) of the whole book.
  2. (10 points:) What, according to Unger, is the relationship among (1) the truth about morality, (2) our Basic Moral Values, and (3) our intuitive moral judgments about particular cases?
  3. (20 points:) What is Unger’s two-part method for examining the moral significance of a factor that a Preservationist might claim dispels a particular puzzle? Integrate an example into your explanation of Unger’s method, by using one of the nine factors that Unger lists on pp. 53–54.
  4. (10 points:) What is a negative subjective factor? (I’m asking for an explanation of the concept, not just an example, although an example might complement your explanation of the concept.)
  5. (10 points:) What is projective separating?
  6. (10 points:) What is the method of several options?
  7. (20 points:) What is the purpose of the method of several options and the method of combining? In other words, what use does Unger think these methods have, both in our thinking about morality and in his writing about morality?
  8. (10 points:) What are some of the non-material costs that, according to Unger, are among the costs of a morally decent life?
  9. (20 points:) What does Unger mean by “a selectively flexible semantics”?

The test will be given in class on Wednesday, May 12. Please bring a blank blue book or some blank paper on which to write your answers.

II. Paper

If you recall the paper assignment for Anarchy, State, and Utopia, this one will come as no surprise. Like that book, Living High and Letting Die is rich in contentious claims—some of them directly relevant to the author’s overall aims, others confessedly tangential. The paper assignment is to write a paper of not more than 2,000 words focusing on one of Unger’s significant claims and developing the most effective objection to it that you can. In order to succeed on this assignment, you must understand that you will be graded not only on the effectiveness of your objection, but also on the significance of the claim to which you offer your objection. In choosing a claim to critique, then, you must strike a balance between (1) choosing a claim that is easy to refute, but that is also quite trivial, and (2) choosing a claim that is undeniably significant, but that is also very hard to refute.

In order to fulfill the two main requirements of this assignment, you should structure your paper in the following way.

  1. First, describe the claim that Unger makes that will be the object of your critique. This could probably be done in a short opening paragraph.
  2. Second, explain why this claim is significant to Unger’s theory. You might explain, for example, that if the claim with which you’re concerned turns out to be objectionable, then there will turn out to be problems with Unger’s account of one of the following; this could probably be done in a page or so.
  3. Third, explain why the claim you have identified, and whose significance for Unger’s theory you have established, is objectionable. This will require arguments, and should occupy the bulk of your paper.

No paragraph should be involved in more than one of the three tasks listed above, though task 3 and possibly task 2 may require more than one paragraph to execute. Whenever a paragraph break is also the beginning of the execution of one of the tasks on this list, begin the next paragraph with the number of the task you’re beginning, like this. (This will help me know what you’re up to at any point in your paper.)

1.    In Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence, Peter Unger makes many contentious claims. One of these is that . . .

One mistake to avoid is attempting a general criticism of any of the above components of Unger’s theory. For although such a paper would obviously have no trouble with the “significance” criterion, it would surely falter on the “effectiveness” criterion, since each of the above issues is too broad and multifaceted to be dealt with effectively in a paper of this length. (That is why I say to pick a narrower claim as the object of your critique, and then explain how that narrower claim is an essential, or at least necessary, element in a larger component that is obviously significant.) The opposite sort of mistake, of course, is to offer a criticism of something so minute or peripheral that it lacks significance. The demands of significance and effectiveness tend to oppose each other; so, as I said above, part of your job is to strike a balance between the two.

In writing your paper you are welcome to use resources beyond those used in class, but you do not need to do so. (You are encouraged, though, to have a classmate peer-edit your paper. For additional suggestions about writing philosophy papers generally, see my “Guidelines for Writing a Philosophy Paper.”)

You paper will be due at my office by 5 p.m. on Monday, May 17.