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Philosophical InterventionsReviews 1986-2011$
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Martha C. Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199777853

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199777853.001.0001

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If Oxfam Ran the World

If Oxfam Ran the World

PETER UNGER (1996), Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence

(p.187) Chapter Fifteen If Oxfam Ran the World
Philosophical Interventions

Martha C. Nussbaum

Oxford University Press

This chapter reviews the book Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence (1996), by Peter Unger. Evidence suggests that there are big problems of human misery in the world, problems that should be addressed by theories both of personal morality and of global justice. Unger argues that we are culpably indifferent to this misery, and that our daily thinking about our duty to others is marked by self-serving irrationality. We typically believe that we do have a moral duty to rescue others who are at risk, especially where this can be done without great cost to ourselves. One distinction that we are fond of making to let ourselves off the moral hook is between doing harm and allowing harm to occur. Unger's study of irrationalities in our daily thinking implies convincingly that we owe others far more than we typically think we do. He maintains that a relatively affluent person, “like you and me, must contribute to vitally effective groups, like Oxfam and Unicef, most of the money and property she now has, and most of what comes her way for the foreseeable future”.

Keywords:   misery, Living High and Letting Die, Peter Unger, morality, justice, irrationality, moral duty, harm, Oxfam, Unicef

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