Disintegrated persons and distributive principles

Ratio 15 (1):58–79 (2002)
Abstract
In this paper I consider Derek Parfit’s attempt to respond to Rawls’ charge that utilitarianism ignores the distinction between persons. I proceed by arguing that there is a moderate form of reductionism about persons, one stressing the importance of what Parfit calls psychological connectedness, which can hold in different degrees both within one person and between distinct persons. In terms of this form of reductionism, against which Parfit’s arguments are ineffective, it is possible to resuscitate the Rawlsian charge that the utilitarian maximizing approach to matters of distribution ignores something that is of moral relevance, viz., the difference between the degrees of connectedness that hold between different stages of the same person, and between that person and his nearest and dearest, and the lack of connectedness between that person and distant others who may be benefitted at his cost. To Parfit’s charge that reductionism sees the differences between persons as being ‘less deep’, I reply that the sense in which they are less deep is not at odds with their retaining their original moral importance, perhaps now better understood.
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