Reading Parfit
Dancy (Jonathan), Ed.
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Back Cover Blurb

  1. When it was first published in 1984, "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons" was heralded as one of the most significant achievements in moral philosophy to have appeared in recent times. Now, Reading Parfit brings together some of the most distinguished scholars in the field to discuss and critique each of the four parts of this outstanding work, and present a detailed response to Parfit′s1 philosophical perspective.
  2. Including thirteen essays, of which the majority have been written especially for this volume, Reading Parfit will be an invaluable collection for both students and scholars working in the fields of metaphysics and moral philosophy.
  3. Contributors include David Gauthier, Frank Jackson, Larry Temkin, Judith Jarvis Thomson, John McDowell, Robert Merrihew Adams, Michael Stocker, Philip Pettit, Michael Smith, Simon Blackburn, Jonathan Dancy, Mark Johnston, David O. Brink and Sidney Shoemaker.
  4. Parfit′s2 responses to these papers will be published later3 in two separate volumes entitled Practical Realism and The Metaphysics of the Self.
  5. Jonathan Dancy is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading. He has published widely in the areas of ethics and epistemology, including "Dancy (Jonathan) & Sosa (Ernest), Eds. - A Companion to Epistemology" (Blackwell Publishers, 1992) and Moral Reasons (Blackwell Publishers, 1992).

In-Page Footnotes ("Dancy (Jonathan), Ed. - Reading Parfit")

Footnote 3: This promise was on Amazon, but I’ve not been able to find the books, so presumably it was not kept.


"Adams (Robert Merrihew) - Should Ethics be More Impersonal?"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 12

COMMENT: Originally a Critical Review of "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons" in The Philosophical Review, Vol. 98, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), pp. 439-484.

"Blackburn (Simon) - Has Kant Refuted Parfit?"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 9
Write-up Note1

  1. The Unity Reaction
  2. Reductionism
  3. The Self in Space
  4. Activity
  5. Imagination and Unity
  6. The Glass Wall

"Brink (David) - Rational Egoism and the Separateness of Persons"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 6

"Dancy (Jonathan) - Parfit and Indirectly Self-Defeating Theories"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 1

"Dancy (Jonathan) - Reading Parfit: Preface"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Preface

Full Text
  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 ("Dancy (Jonathan) - Reading Parfit: Preface")

Footnote 4:

"Gauthier (David) - Rationality and the Rational Aim"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 2

"Jackson (Frank) - Which Effects?"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 3

"Johnston (Mark) - Human Concerns without Superlative Selves"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 8


"McDowell (John) - Reductionism and the First Person"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 11

COMMENT: There is an annotated photocopy filed with "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 10 (M1: Ma-Mc)".

"Merricks (Trenton) - Review of Jonathan Dancy's 'Reading Parfit'"

Source: Philosophical Review 108.3, July 1999, pp. 422-425

Author’s Introduction (excerpted)
  1. The bad news is that all of these essays were in their completed form five or six years before the book was published; as a result, the arguments sometimes seem a little bit familiar and, of course, neither profit from nor engage the most recent literature on the topics they address.
  2. The good news is that "Dancy (Jonathan), Ed. - Reading Parfit" includes some very fine essays (and, in my opinion, a few not-very-fine essays) by talented philosophers. These essays, taken together, address all four parts of Reasons and Persons: Self Defeating Theories, Rationality and Time, Personal Identity, and Future Generations. I'll focus my discussion on (the parts of) those essays-about half of the essays in the collection-that say something about Parfit1's metaphysics of personal identity.
  3. What is Parfit2's metaphysics of personal identity? It involves, in large part, the relation of psychological connectedness and continuity.

COMMENT: Review of "Dancy (Jonathan), Ed. - Reading Parfit".

"Olson (Eric) - Review of Dancy's 'Reading Parfit'"

Source: Philosophical Books; Oct1998, Vol. 39 Issue 4, p252-4

COMMENT: Review of "Dancy (Jonathan), Ed. - Reading Parfit".

"Pettit (Philip) & Smith (Michael) - Parfit's P"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 5

"Shoemaker (Sydney) - Parfit on Identity"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 7

  • Originally a Critical Review of "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons" in Mind, New Series, Vol. 94, No. 375 (Jul., 1985), pp. 443-453.
  • The version in Dacy is somewhat abbreviated.

"Stocker (Michael) - Parfit and the Time of Value"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 4

"Temkin (Larry S.) - Rethinking the Good, Moral Ideals and the Nature of Practical Reasoning"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 13

"Thomson (Judith Jarvis) - People and Their Bodies"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 10

Author’s Introduction
  1. The simplest view of what people are is that they are their bodies. That view has other attractions besides its simplicity. I feel inclined to think that this fleshy object (my body is what I refer to) isn't something I merely currently inhabit; I feel inclined to think that it is me. This bony object (my left hand is what I refer to) – isn't it literally part of me? Certainly we all, at least at times, feel inclined to think that we are not merely embodied, but that we just, all simply, are our bodies.
  2. What stands in the way of adopting this simple and attractive view?
  3. Some people would say that the manner in which death ordinarily comes on us stands in the way of adopting it. Some people's deaths issue from total destruction of the body, as in an explosion, but that is not the ordinary case. Suppose Alfred and Bert are people who died of a disease, in their beds. Their bodies did not go out of existence at that time. So if Alfred and Bert went out of existence at that time, then they are not their bodies.
  4. But did Alfred and Bert go out of existence at that time? Don't people who die in bed just become dead people at the time of their deaths? Cats who die in bed become dead cats at the time of their deaths; why should it be thought otherwise in the case of people? Can't there be some dead people as well as some dead cats in a house after the roof falls in? The answer surely is that there can be.
  5. You might have wondered why I have been talking in the plural, of people. I did so because the only available candidate in the singular for the plural 'people' is 'person', and philosophers do not use 'person’ as a mere innocuous singular for 'people': 'person' in the hands of a philosopher trails clouds of philosophy. 'Dead people', like 'dead cats’, causes no one any discomfort; but ‘dead person’, unlike ‘dead cat’, causes a philosopher (though not, I think, a non-philosopher) to feel at best anxious.

COMMENT: Also in "Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics".

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