Parfit, Heroic Death, and Symbolic Utility
Cooper (Wesley)
Source: Journal of Social Philosophy, Summer2002, Vol. 33 Issue 2, p221-239, 19p;
Paper - Abstract

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Philosopher’s Index Abstract

  1. This article examines the defense by Derek Parfit of the principle that it is not irrational to perform an action one believes to be morally right, even if it is not in one's self-interest. He calls this principle CP2.
  2. The principle that sacrifice requires compensation (SRC) is central to rational egoism. Parfit's principle CP2, by contrast, implies that compensation is not rationally necessary, at least when one is acting for moral reasons.
  3. This difference between SRC and CP2 is discussed. Rational egoism is not psychological egoism. It does not presume that we are psychologically incapable of acting against our self-interest, or what we perceive to be that. It is about rationality rather than psychological necessity.
  4. Nor is it ethical egoism. Rational egoism does not deny the possibility of rational sacrifice or even self-sacrifice, thought it places strictures on them that other doctrines would not.
  5. Rational egoism counsels sacrifice of something good for oneself when doing so leads to something better for oneself. SRC is compatible with what Parfit1 calls Reductionism2 about personal identity, but it is ambivalent toward the Present-Aim Theory of rationality.

Author’s Introduction
  1. In "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons" Derek Parfit defends the principle that it is not irrational to perform an action one believes to be morally right, even if it is not in one’s self-interest. He calls this principle CP2 and formulates it as follows:
      There is at least one desire that is not irrational, and is no less rational than the bias in one’s own favor. This is a desire to do what is in the interests of other people, when this is either morally admirable, or one’s moral duty. ("Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons", 1984, 131)
  2. I will examine his defense of this principle, which is essentially an invocation of a thought-experiment3 he labels My Heroic Death, with a view to clarifying its relationship to rational egoism and the principles of rational choice, as explained below.

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