Authors Citing this Paper: Parfit (Derek)
- Derek Parfit, who died at age 74 on Sunday evening, was not the most famous philosopher in the world. But he was among the most brilliant, and his papers and books have had a profound, incalculably vast impact on the study of moral philosophy over the past half century.
- His work did not dwell on topics of merely academic interest. He wrote about big topics that trouble everyone, philosopher and layperson alike: Who am I? What makes me “me”? What separates me from other people? How should I weigh my desires against those of others? What do I owe to my children, and to the future in general? What does it mean for an action to be right or wrong, and how could we know?
- Parfit was not a prolific author; he tended to write his books over the course of decades, refining them repeatedly after discussions with colleagues and students. In the end, he wrote only two: 1984’s Reasons and Persons, and 2011’s On What Matters, a two-volume, 1,440 page tome whose third volume is still yet to be published. But both are classics, the latter generating such furious debate that a volume of essays discussing it was released two years before the book itself even came out (most of the key arguments had circulated in draft form for some time).
- For an excellent overview of Parfit’s life and the major themes of his work, I highly recommend Larissa MacFarquhar’s beautiful and incisive New Yorker profile1, published as On What Matters finally hit shelves. But perhaps the best way to experience Parfit’s writing, and understand why both his ideas and his method of articulating them proved so influential, is to dig into a few of his most important and fascinating arguments.
For the full text, see Vox: Derek Parfit - Here's why he mattered.
Footnote 1: See "MacFarquhar (Larissa) - How to be Good".
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