Reading Parfit: Preface
Dancy (Jonathan)
Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Preface
Paper - Abstract

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  1. This collection of essays on "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons" (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1984) was first conceived in 1987, and most of the papers that it contains were written by 1990.
  2. My original intention, in proposing such a volume and in inviting contributions, was to promote discussion and understanding of the complex material in "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons", and also to give those who wanted to teach classes on the book something in the way of a series of papers that might help them and their students to find their way through it.
  3. The second of those purposes is no less relevant now, nearly ten years later, than it was then. Matters have changed somewhat in respect of the first; to judge by the constant stream of enquiries that I have received about what was happening to my collection, interest in Parfit1's work is growing just as I wanted it to. I hope that the publication of the collection, better late than never, will further encourage this tendency.
  4. All the essays printed here appear for the first time, apart from the two Critical Notices by Sydney Shoemaker and Robert Merrihew Adams. Essays are printed in the order in which the topics they treat occur in "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons". (This, and nothing else, explains why my own paper comes first.) This rule has been hard to apply to the papers on Part 3: that is, those concerned with the metaphysics of the self. Here I confess that my ordering is a little arbitrary. Otherwise unattributed references are throughout to "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons". Readers should be warned that though there is as yet no second edition of that book, its reprinting of 1987 contained a few significant alterations (summarized on page x there). Like myself, my contributors will have been working from copies printed before 1987.
  5. It is galling now to recognize that the collection could have been published in its present form five or six years ago. The reason for the delay was my desire to include responses that Derek Parfit2 had agreed to write to the suggestions and criticisms of the contributors. These responses rapidly grew to such a size that the whole could no longer be contained in a single volume. The plan then was to divide the one volume into two: one on Reasons and one on Persons, roughly.
  6. But even that plan failed. Parfit3 has now written so much new material that it will itself make three new books, which will eventually be published under the titles4 of
    • Practical Realism,
    • The Metaphysics of the Self, and
    • On What Matters.
  7. I greatly regret the delay in publication. But I have at least the consolation of knowing the quality of the new work that Derek Parfit is producing in response to the papers in this volume. On several occasions I have delivered a contributor's paper to him, thinking silently that he would have a lot of trouble dealing with this one; and on each I have been proved, if not wrong, then at least greatly over-confident.
  8. One consequence of the delay has been that many of the essays in Reading Parfit have become well known, and there have even been responses to some of them published in the journals. My contributors have sometimes asked me whether they can make changes to their essays, either as a result of this or just because they have changed their minds about something. I have been deaf to all such appeals, for the reason that Parfit5's new work, though it is not confined to the essays in this volume, still stands in some degree as a direct response to them, and he has been working on the original versions. So readers should bear in mind that what is contained in Reading Parfit was written between five and ten years ago, and no change has been permitted since.
  9. I end by apologizing to all my contributors, and to a frustrated readership, for my failure to get this collection published in proper time.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 4:

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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