DEREKPARFIT is senior research fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. He regularly teaches there and is also afŠliated with New York University and Harvard. He was educated at Oxford and was a Harkness Fellow at Columbia and Harvard. He has been a visiting professor at Princeton, Temple, Rice, and the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is a fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has made major contributions to (...) our understanding of personal identity, philosophy of the mind, and ethics, and he is thought to be one of the most important moral philosophers of the past century. His many academic articles include “Personal Identity” (1971), “Overpopulation and the Quality of Life” (1986), “The Unimportance of Identity” (1995), and “Equality and Priority” (1997). Rationality and Morality and Rediscovering Reasons are forthcoming from Oxford University Press. His book Reasons and Persons (1984) has been described by Alan Ryan of The Sunday Times as “something close to a work of genius.”. (shrink)
This is a major work in moral philosophy, the long-awaited follow-up to Parfit's 1984 classic Reasons and Persons, a landmark of twentieth-century philosophy. Parfit now presents a powerful new treatment of reasons and a critical examination of the most prominent systematic moral theories, leading to his own ground-breaking conclusion.
Challenging, with several powerful arguments, some of our deepest beliefs about rationality, morality, and personal identity, Parfit claims that we have a false view about our own nature. It is often rational to act against our own best interersts, he argues, and most of us have moral views that are self-defeating. We often act wrongly, although we know there will be no one with serious grounds for complaint, and when we consider future generations it is very hard to avoid (...) conclusions that most of us will find very disturbing. (shrink)
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I did not, as James Sterba writes, claim to have explained "the asymmetry view." I claimed that, since my suggested explanation makes it impossible to solve the Paradox of Future Individuals, "we must abandon" one of its essential premises (my p. i52). Sterba's main claim is that my suggested explanation "does not so much explain or justify the [asymmetry] view as simply restate it." Is this so? My explanation assumed (W) that an act cannot be wrong if it will not (...) be bad for any of the people who ever live.' Sterba asks why we should not appeal instead to one of my Wide Principles, which are concerned with possible effects on people who might have lived. And he suggests that, since "the only ground" for preferring (W) is that it explains the asymmetry view, (W) cannot explain this view. There are other grounds for appealing to (W), such as those provided by certain theories about the nature of moral reasoning. On Scanlon's theory, for example, our fundamental moral motive is "to be able to justify one's actions to others on grounds that they could not reasonably reject.'" We may claim that, on such a theory, an act cannot be wrong unless it will affect someone in a way that cannot be justified unless there will be some complainant whose complaint cannot be answered. Similarly, Brandt suggests that, by the phrase "is morally wrong," we should mean "would be prohibited by any moral code which all fully rational persons would tend to support... for the society of the agent, if they expected to spend a lifetime in that society."> It seems likely that, on the chosen.. (shrink)
Do our lives have meaning? Should we create more people? Is death bad? Should we commit suicide? Would it be better to be immortal? Should we be optimistic or pessimistic? Since Life, Death, and Meaning: Key Philosophical Readings on the Big Questions first appeared, David Benatar's distinctive anthology designed to introduce students to the key existential questions of philosophy has won a devoted following among users in a variety of upper-level and even introductory courses.
Do our lives have meaning? Should we create more people? Is death bad? Should we commit suicide? Would it be better if we were immortal? Should we be optimistic or pessimistic? Life, Death, and Meaning brings together key readings, primarily by English-speaking philosophers, on such 'big questions.'.
How many people should there be? Can there be overpopulation: too many people living? I shall present a puzzling argument about these questions, show how this argument can be strengthened, then sketch a possible reply.
We can start with some science fiction. Here on Earth, I enter the Teletransporter. When I press some button, a machine destroys my body, while recording the exact states of all my cells. This information is sent by radio to Mars, where another machine makes, out of organic materials, a perfect copy of my body. The person who wakes up on Mars seems to remember living my life up to the moment when I pressed the button, and is in every (...) other way just like me. (shrink)
DerekParfit presents the third volume of On What Matters, his landmark work of moral philosophy. Parfit develops further his influential treatment of reasons, normativity, the meaning of moral discourse, and the status of morality. He engages with his critics, and shows the way to resolution of their differences.
In this essay I take issue with DerekParfit's reductionist account of personal identity.Parfit is concerned to respond to what he sees as flaws in the conception of the role of 'person' in self-interest theories. He attempts to show that the notion of a person as something over and above a totality of mental and physical states and events (in his words, a 'further fact'), is empty, and so, our ethical concerns must be based on something other (...) than this. My objections centre around the claim that Parfit employs an impoverished conception of 'life'. Parfit misconceives the connection between 'I' and one's body, and, so, despite his rejection of a metaphysical conception of 'self', remains within the logic of Cartesianism. What Parfit and other reductionists call an 'impersonal' perspective, I shall call the third-person perspective: a perspective which one in general may take. Against Parfit I shall offer a more complex conception of 'self' through the concept of 'bodily perspective'. I emphasize the irreducible ambiguities of human embodiment in order to show the presuppositions and the limitations of Parfit's view. Of interest is the conception of time and the model of continuity that is appropriate to an embodied subject's life. I employ Paul Ricoeur's concept of 'human time' to argue that the reflective character of human experience demands a model of temporality and continuity that differs significantly from the one Parfit employs. (shrink)
When we have a normative reason, and we act for that reason, it becomes our motivating reason. But we can have either kind of reason without having the other. Thus, if I jump into the canal, my motivating reason was provided by my belief; but I had no normative reason to jump. I merely thought I did. And, if I failed to notice that the canal was frozen, I had a reason not to jump that, because it was unknown to (...) me, did not motivate me. Though we can have normative reasons without being motivated, and vice versa, such reasons are closely related to our motivation. There are, however, very different views about what this relation is. This disagreement raises wider questions about what normative reasons are, and about which reasons there are. After sketching some of these views, I shall discuss some arguments by Williams, and then say where, in my opinion, the truth lies. [...] I [will] suggest why, as I believe, we should be non-reductive normative realists, and should regard all reasons as external. (shrink)
If I understand him correctly, DerekParfit’s views place us, philosophically speaking, in a very small box. According to Parfit, normativity is an irreducible non-natural property that is independent of the human mind. That is to say, there are normative truths - truths about what we ought to do and to want, or about reasons for doing and wanting things. The truths in question are synthetic a priori truths, and accessible to us only by some sort of (...) rational intuition. Parfit supposes that if we are to preserve the irreducibility of the normative, this is just about all we can say, at least until we bring in some actual intuitions to supply the story with some content. (shrink)
Resumen: DerekParfit en Personas, racionalidad y tiempo sostiene que si bien es posible concebir experiencias sin referir a personas, las experiencias dependen para su existencia de las personas, y a su vez, las experiencias dependerían para su identidad de cierta otra entidad no idéntica con la entidad persona. Tal tesis, que deviene de determinado experimentos mentales de Parfit, específicamente del argumento Mi División y el Argumento del Hospital, se revisará desde ciertas nociones metafísicas de E. J. (...) Lowe, en específico, desde la tesis que supone que dependencia de identidad implica dependencia existencial, de forma que si x depende para su identidad de y, x dependería, de igual forma, para su existencia de y. Tal supuesto permitirá desarrollar ciertas problemáticas para lo que Parfit sostiene en su esquema sobre la dependencia de las experiencias.: DerekParfit in People, rationality and time argues that although it is possible to conceive experiences without referring to people, experiences depend on people for their existence, and in turn, experiences would depend on certain other entity not identical to the person entity for their identity. This thesis, which comes from certain mental experiments of Parfit, specifically from My Division argument and the Hospital Argument, will be reviewed from certain metaphysical notions of E. J. Lowe, specifically, from the thesis that assumes that identity dependence implies existential dependence, so that if x depends on the identity of y, x would depend, in the same way, on the existence of y. This assumption will bring to developing certain problems concerning what Parfit holds in his scheme on the dependence of experiences. (shrink)
According to the Repugnant Conclusion: Compared with the existence of many people who would all have some very high quality of life, there is some much larger number of people whose existence would be better, even though these people would all have lives that were barely worth living. I suggest some ways in which we might be able to avoid this conclusion. I try to defend a strong form of lexical superiority.
We can start with some science fiction. Here on Earth, I enter the Teletransporter. When I press some button, a machine destroys my body, while recording the exact states of all my cells. The information is sent by radio to Mars, where another machine makes, out of organic materials, a perfect copy of my body. The person who wakes up on Mars seems to remember living my life up to the moment when I pressed the button, and he is in (...) every other way just like me. Of those who have thought about such cases, some believe that it would be I who would wake up on Mars. They regard Teletransportation as merely the fastest way of travelling. Others believe that, if I chose to be Teletransported, I would be making a terrible mistake. On their view, the person who wakes up would be a mere Replica of me. (shrink)
How many people should there be? Can there be overpopulation: too many people living? I shall present a puzzling argument about these questions, show how this argument can be strengthened, then sketch a possible reply.
When is a moral theory self-defeating? I suggest the following. There are certain things we ought to try to achieve. Call these our moral aims. Our moral theory would be self-defeating if we believed we ought to do what will cause our moral aims to be worse achieved. Is this ever true? If so, what does it show?
The reasoning in this anthology shows how hard it is to form acceptable theories in cases that involve different numbers of people. That's highly important. And it gives us ground for worry about our appeal to particular theories in the other two kinds of case: those which involve the same numbers, in the different outcomes, though these are not all the same people, and those which do involve all and only the same people. But there is still a clear distinction (...) between these three kinds of case. And there may be some hope of 'quarantining' the impossibility, and the resulting scepticism, to Different Number Choices. Her's a partial analogy, which may be worth mentioning. It's very difficult to formulate acceptable welfarist theories that could apply to cases that involve infinite quantities of such things as suffering and happiness. That's a worry, but it doesn't undermine our confidence in the theories that can handle cases with only finite quantities. (shrink)
One theory about rationality is the Self-interest Theory, or S. S claims that what each of us has most reason to do is whatever would be best for himself. And it is irrational for anyone to do what he knows would be worse for himself. When morality conflicts with self-interest, many people would reject the Self-interest Theory. But most of these people would accept one of the claims that S makes. This is the claim that we should not care less (...) about our further future, simply because it is further in the future. We should not, for example, postpone pains at the foreseen cost of making them much worse. In our concern for our own self-interest, we should give equal weight to all the parts of our future. In this paper I shall discuss how a Self-interest Theorist should defend this claim. (shrink)
Tomasello et al. give a good account of how shared intentionality develops in children, but a much weaker one of how it might have evolved. They are unduly hasty in dismissing the emergence of language as a triggering factor. An alternative account is suggested in which language provided the spark, but thereafter language and shared intentionality coevolved.
In Reasons and Persons, DerekParfit cannot find a theory of well-being that solves the Non-Identity Problem, the Repugnant Conclusion, the Absurd Conclusion, and all forms of the Mere Addition Paradox. I describe a “Quasi-Maximizing” theory that solves them. This theory includes (i) the denial that being better than is transitive and (ii) the “Conflation Principle,” according to which alternative B is hedonically better than alternative C if it would be better for someone to have all the B-experiences. (...) (i) entails that Quasi-Maximization is not a maximizing theory, but (ii) ensures that its evaluations will often coincide with such theories. (shrink)
DerekParfit argues in Reasons and Persons that acting according to your present desires is more rational, or at least as rational, as acting in your long-term self-interest. To do this, he puts forward a case supporting a 'critical present-aim theory' of rationality opposed to the self-interest theory, and then argues against a number of possible replies. This article is a response to these arguments, concluding that Parfit's favouring of the present-aim theory is unfounded, and that self-interest (...) is the better theory of rationality. (shrink)
Frank Jackson claims that consequentialists should hold the view that DerekParfit labels the second ‘mistake in moral mathematics’, which is the view that “If some act is right or wrong because of . . . effects, the only relevant effects are the effects of this particular act.” But each of the three arguments that Jackson offers is unsound. The root of the problem is that in order to argue for the conclusion Jackson aims to establish (that consequentialists (...) should not regard the second “mistake” as a mistake), one must presuppose an overly narrow, and hence distorted, understanding of what consequentialism is. (shrink)
DerekParfit (1942–2017) is widely considered to be one of the most important moral philosophers of the twentieth century. Reasons and Persons is arguably the most influential of the two books published in his lifetime and hailed as a classic work of ethics and personal identity. DerekParfit’s Reasons and Persons: An Introduction and Critical Inquiry is an outstanding introduction to and assessment of Parfit’s book, with chapters by leading scholars of ethics, metaphysics and of (...)Parfit’s work. Part I provides a much-needed introduction to key topics and themes in Reasons and Persons that will be useful for those new to Parfit’s complex work. These include Parfit’s idea of self-defeating theories, rationality and time, personal identity, future generations and well-being. Part II explores various debates generated by Reasons and Persons, including its connections with Buddhism, metaethics, theory of rationality, transformative choices and further developments in personal identity and metaphysics such as conativism. Combining clear exposition of the major topics and arguments in Reasons and Persons with scholarly perspectives on more advanced themes, this book is ideal for students of ethics, metaethics, metaphysics and anyone interested in DerekParfit’s philosophy. (shrink)
This is an excellent compilation of essays honoring the seventieth birthday of Joseph Needham. Sivin’s preface plausibly argues for the thesis that, "since the theoretical and practical approaches seem in traditional societies everywhere to have formed a unity with the social, political, and spiritual aspects of life, the reader can enrich his understanding of the latter to the extent that he is aware of the former". The essays belong to two complementary parts. The first four essays by Derek J. (...) de Solla Price, S. Nakayama, A. C. Graham, and Mitukuni Yosida furnish valuable critical aids and perspectives on Needham’s monumental work, Science and Civilization in China. The first three essays contain matters of philosophical interest. The remaining five essays display a variety of representative approaches to Chinese science in the areas of astronomy, Mohist optics, elixir plants, medicine and anesthesia in China and Japan. (shrink)
In his discussion of normative concepts in the first part of On What Matters (2011), Parfit holds that apart from the ‘ought’ of decisive reason, there are other senses of ‘ought’ which do not imply any reasons. This claim poses a dilemma for his ‘reason-involving conception’ of normativity: either Parfit has to conclude that non-reason-implying ‘oughts’ are not normative. Or else he is forced to accept that normativity needs only to involve ‘apparent reasons’ – a certain kind of (...) hypothetical truths about reasons. I argue that both of these options are inacceptable. In the course of the discussion, I present a general objection to ‘apparent reason accounts’ of the normativity of rationality as advocated not only by Parfit, but also by Schroeder (2009) and Way (2009). (shrink)
The purpose of the present article is to disentangle both Parfit’s and Whitehead’s views on personal identity. Issues regarding what it means to be a singular individual, how a person can remain the same over time, and what makes an individual an original being with specific characteristics will be examined.
DerekParfit argues that everyone ought to follow the principles whose universal acceptance would make things go best. I present a counterexample: a world in which no one's moral beliefs have any motivating force. I explain how Parfit's metaethical commitments imply that such a world is possible, and why this possibility is a problem for Parfit's project of reconciling Kantianism, contractualism, and consequentialism. I consider two of Parfit's responses to my counterexample.
Metaethical non-analytical naturalism consists in the metaphysical thesis that normative properties are identical with or reducible to natural properties and the epistemological thesis that we cannot come to a complete understanding of the nature of normative properties via conceptual analysis alone. In On What Matters, DerekParfit (2011) argues that non-analytical naturalism is either false or incoherent. In § 1, I show that his argument for this claim is unsuccessful, by showing that it rests on a tacit assumption (...) about the nature of normative thought that non-analytical naturalists need not accept. In § 2, I show that escaping Parfit’s argument in this way is no ad hoc maneuver; as I demonstrate, the idea that non-analytical naturalists can exploit to escape Parfit’s argument is a familiar one. (shrink)
In section 96 of Reasons and Persons, DerekParfit offers his now familiar tripartite distinction among candidates for ‘what matters’: (1) Relation R with its normal cause; (2) R with any reliable cause; (3) R with any cause. He defends option (3). This paper tries to show that there is important ambiguity in this distinction and in Parfit's defence of his position. There is something strange about Parfit's way of dividing up the territory: I argue that (...) those who have followed him in viewing the choice among (1)–(3) as the (or an) important question in thinking about ‘what matters’ are mistaken, and that they bypass what seems to be a more important, even crucial, set of options and considerations. I am less concerned with what he does say than with what he ought to say, given his intuitions and arguments, and the general framework within which he is working. And I am particularly concerned to show that whether or not I am correct about what he is doing with his tripartite distinction, it is a distinction with which we should not be particularly concerned in the analysis either of what matters or of psychological continuity. (shrink)
DerekParfit's Reasons and Persons (1984) mounted a striking defense of Act Consequentialism against a Rawls-inspired Kantian orthodoxy in moral philosophy. On What Matters (2011) is notable for its serious engagement with Kant's ethics and for its arguments in support of the “Triple Theory,” which allies Rule Consequentialism with Kantian and Scanlonian Contractualism against Act Consequentialism as a theory of moral right. This critical notice argues that what underlies this change is a view of the deontic concept of (...) moral rightness that ties it closely to blameworthiness and accountability in a way that effectively concedes a Rawlsian publicity condition. It is also argued that Parfit's arguments that Kantian and Scanlonian Contractualism entail Rule Consequentialism can be resisted. Two elements of Parfit's metaethics are critically discussed. First, concerning Parfit's arguments against subjectivist theories of practical reason, it is argued that a form of subjectivist theory exists that is not only consistent with Parfit's claim that all reasons for acting are object rather than state given, but that can support that claim. Second, it is argued that Parfit's arguments against identifying normative with natural statements and facts do not transfer seamlessly to identifying normative with natural properties. (shrink)
According to constitutive reductionism of DerekParfit, a subject/person is not a separate existing being but his existence consists in the existence of a brain and body, performance of actions, thinking and occurrence of other physical and mental events. The identity of the subject in time comes down only to “Relation R” - mental consistency and/or connectedness – elicited by appropriate reasons. In the following article, I will try, relying on Frank Johnson's Knowledge Argument, to argue in favour (...) of the following conclusions: a person/subject is a “fact”irreducible to body and physical relations with the environment and a subject is something/”fact” non-reducible to mental occurrences. (shrink)