Living High and Letting Die and If Oxfam Ran the World Essay

Living High and Letting Die and If Oxfam Ran the World Essay

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In this essay I will discuss both Peter Unger’s ideas on the poverty problem from his book “Living High and Letting Die” and Martha Nussbaum’s critique of it in her article “If Oxfam Ran the World”, as well as my own view on their arguments. After I go over both of their basic ideas, I shall discuss Unger’s response to the review and his defence of his philosophies. Finally, I argue as to why I find Nussbaum’s reasoning more logical and persuasive.
Peter Unger attempts to persuade his audience into believing that it is their moral obligation to do anything and everything in their powers to reduce the suffering in the world caused by poverty. He takes a utilitarian approach to the poverty question by arguing that we should focus on how to save the most people by using donations as efficiently as possible. This means that we must not only take into consideration number of lives saved but also the amount of good each of those lives may do.
Unger’s main example, titled The Envelope, is a case that forces the reader to re-evaluate their initial reactions when compared to other examples such as The Vintage Sedan. In the case of The Envelope, a person, who is not financially well off, receives a letter in the mail from UNICEF asking for one hundred dollars that will go to save thirty children in poorer nations. Instead of putting a minimal amount of energy and resources into writing the cheque, they choose to disregard it and throw it in the trash (25). In The Vintage Sedan, a person has just recently restored a classic luxury sedan that they can only barely afford. This person encounters a wounded man on the road who caused the injury himself by recklessly trespassing over barbed wire fencing. Now the owner of the sedan is faced with ...


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...ity to earn to their maximum potential and donate nearly all of it while it is others’ responsibilities to spend frivolously in order to maintain our developed economy. He repeatedly states that we are morally obligated to donate as much as we can afford, yet the same people who donate depend on our strong economy that is based on consumerism. It seems that his argument will have cataclysmic effects if eventually accepted by the majority, as Nussbaum points out, or will have a minimal effect if it goes the way Unger hopes for. Either option resulting unfavourably.
Although well intentioned, I find Unger’s attempt at the poverty problem weak and in need of much improvement. He convinces his audience of their illogical psychological predispositions through creative examples, but when they are applied to real world situations, they are impossible to truly follow.


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