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

Class notes: Unger, chapter 1: “Illusions of Innocence: An Introduction”

The following notes correspond roughly to what we cover, including at least a portion of what I put on the board or the screen, in class. In places they may be more or less comprehensive than what we actually cover in class, and should not be taken as a substitute for your own observations and records of what goes on in class.

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  1. aims
    1. to show that it’s seriously wrong for well-off people not to do anything to lessen distant suffering (pp. 7.9–8.1)
    2. to show that living a morally decent life requires “terribly costly” sacrifices by well-off people (p. 14.3)
  2. basic concepts
    1. the truth about morality
    2. our Basic Moral Values (which pretty well reflect the truth about morality)
    3. our intuitive reactions to particular cases (which may or may not reflect our Basic Moral Values)
  3. Preservationism and Liberationism
    1. Preservationism
      1. the majority view (p. 10.7)
      2. intuitive responses to particular cases taken to reflect our Basic Moral Values (p. 11.1–3)
      3. no “antecendent morally substantive aspect” to this view, since the substance is distilled from our responses to particular cases (p. 11.6)
    2. Liberationism
      1. the minority view (p. 10.7)
      2. a morally substantive core, regarding helping others (p. 12.5)
      3. intuitive responses to particular cases sometimes taken to reflect our Basic Moral Values, but often  taken to be derived from distortional tendencies (p. 11.7)
      4. example: our harsh reaction to the Shallow Pond reflects our Basic Moral Values; our lenient reaction to the Envelope does not
  4. examples of distortional tendencies
    1. the puzzle about Washington, Jefferson, and slavery in modern Australia
    2. Our Idea of Moral Progress (p. 18.9–19.1)
    3. three distortional tendencies
      1. underrating some behavior, such as that of the slaveholding Australians (p. 19.8)
      2. overrating some behavior, such as that of Washington and Jefferson (p. 19.8)
      3. overrating our own behavior, such as our throwing away UNICEF envelopes (p. 20.3)