Parfit's Arguments for the Present-Aim Theory
Hooker (Brad)
Source: Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 70, No. 1; March 1992
Paper - Abstract

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Philosophers Index Abstract

  1. The "Self-Interest Theory" maintains that one has most reason to do what would be best for oneself over the long term.
  2. The "Present-aim Theory" claims that one has just as much reason to do what would fulfil one's present desires, even if this is not best for oneself over the long term.
  3. Which theory provides a better account of what one has most reason to do apart from moral considerations? Derek Parfit1 argues that the Present-aim Theory does.
  4. This article challenges his arguments.

Author’s Introduction
  1. One view about good reasons for action is that what one has most reason to do is what would be most beneficial to oneself in the long run, or, in other words, what would make one's life, as an extended whole, go best in self-interested terms. Call this the Self-interest Theory.
  2. An alternative view is that one has at least as much reason to do what would best achieve what, on reflection, one now desires, even if this is not what is most beneficial to oneself in long term. Call this the Present-aim Theory.
  3. Derek Parfit2 puts forward a number of arguments for thinking that the Present-aim Theory is superior to the Self-interest Theory.
  4. This paper is about those arguments.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. This paper has been about the question of what there is most reason to do in situations in which either there are no moral considerations to be taken into account or the moral considerations to be taken into account are equally balanced.
  2. I have assessed all Parfit3's arguments for concluding that the Present-aim Theory is right and the Self-interest Theory wrong about this question.
  3. In § III, I showed how Parfit4's argument from personal identity leads not to the abandonment of the Self-interest Theory, but merely to a revision of it.
  4. In § IV, I argued that a premiss relied on by Parfit5's argument from incomplete relativity — the premiss that theoretical and practical reason are relevantly similar — is too weak to support the conclusion that knowingly doing what is against one's long- term self-interest is rational (when no moral considerations are in play).
  5. In § V, I addressed Parfit6's argument that we must reject the Self-interest Theory because we believe that it is rational to care more about certain things (such as achievement) than about one's overall welfare. I suggested that he mis-described what we believe: for what we really believe is that it is not irrational to care more about these things than about either having the most pleasant life possible or having the life with the strongest desires fulfilled. This thought is consistent with Objective List versions of the Self- interest Theory.
  6. In § VI, I suggested Parfit7's argument from our bias towards the future might be answered by making a second revision to the Self-interest Theory.
  7. Therefore, for all Parfit8 has argued, a version of the Self-interest Theory might be the most plausible theory of what we have most reason to do when moral considerations do not decide the issue.

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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