derek parfit cause of death

With Derek’s passing, I write to add my voice to those celebrating his life, his work, and his impact on others. He wrote only two books, Reasons and Persons (1984) and the hefty On What Matters (2011), but their originality, brilliance and provocativeness not only inspired philosophers all over the world, but also influenced discussion of practical and political strategies in tackling poverty, inequality, welfare economics, ageing and global warming. Though only meant for an undergraduate audience his talk was typically brilliant. He had no recollection of that. I wish I’d known Derek better than I did – I liked him enormously, and recognize him so immediately in the many comments posted here. ... “Religious beliefs cause at least as … There is no “deep further fact”, no time-spanning, sealed-in entity. However, perturbed by the problem of evil, he lost his own faith at the age of eight, and turned to poetry-writing. After graduating, he held a Harkness fellowship for two years at Columbia and Harvard universities, then, in 1967, gained a prize fellowship to All Souls, where he changed from history to philosophy. 5 minutes later I got a second call from him saying that likely it would be best if I did not come. So the paper may not yet add enough that’s new.” Of course, he was right. But, to my great surprise, the journal passed along three single-spaced typed pages of comments signed by Derek Parfit. We had long discussions in which his interest never seemed to flag, and we exchanged detailed commentaries on each other’s work in progress, from which I benefited enormously. All who knew Derek knew that in addition to being a brilliant philosopher, he was also extraordinarily kind. I found this both unsettling and moving: unsettling because I don’t know anyone else who now has this reaction to deaths that occurred so long ago, and moving because it seemed to me that Derek’s unusual kind of compassion stretched beyond what I or others that I know are capable of. The Philosophical Review, Vol. 3-27. […] Belief in God, or in many gods, prevented the free development of moral reasoning. In Reasons and Persons, Derek Parfit famously argues that discussions of survival turn on Relation R, which is psychological connectedness and continuity with any cause (Parfit 1984). An obvious objection to his theories, Parfit admitted, is the psychological impossibility of viscerally feeling as selfless as they assert we are, or ought to be, which renders them effectively unbelievable. There he discussed philosophy for hours. I have always thought that even if Derek was right about personal identity on metaphysical grounds, his own personality, so distinctive and enduring, might stand as evidence that something sufficiently similar might hold for practical purposes. It is physically and psychologically indistinguishable from what you were – yet suppose several such replicas are made? Derek Parfit (1942-2017) was the greatest living moral philosopher. At this point I think we had not yet met. In Michaelmas term he lectured on the material on personal identity and its normative significance that would be part III of Reasons and Persons. – by subtly sabotaging and resetting it. Terrified of wasting time, even on choosing what to eat or wear, he always had identical types of meal and kept duplicate sets of clothes, and he more often ran than walked. "Very few works in the subject can compare with Parfit's in scope, fertility, imaginative resource, and cogency of reasoning."--P.F. In most civilizations, most people have believed in the existence of a God, or of several gods. The first two Saturday sessions stole the show though. (He needn’t have worried, of course – his comments on my work were always incredibly careful and helpful.) Janet Radcliffe Richards, his wife, said the cause had not been determined. He also reframed the agenda in moral philosophy, He met Janet in 1982, and they married in 2010. For those who aren't aware, Parfit's book Reasons and Persons talks about a whole lot of things, including self-defeating ethical theories (like egoism), reductive personal identity, desires, reasons, etc and really is a masterpiece. Following contemporary cosmology, Derek Parfit writes of the sheer statistical unlikeliness of our existence (LRB, 22 January): ‘Of the range of initial conditions, fewer than one in a billion billion would have produced a Universe with the complexity that allows for life. Since we cannot know how Ethics will develop, it is not irrational to have high hopes.”. He was such a kind, responsive, brilliant person. He will be sorely missed. If we squander energy, for instance, the people who suffer the effects of climate change will be different people from those who would have existed had we properly conserved it, since, thanks to our actions, quite other couplings and conceptions will have occurred. The department took him to dinner afterward and I tagged along. I can now redescribe this fact. It is often rational to act against our own best interests, he argues, and most of … I had the opportunity to take an undergraduate level seminar with Derek in the spring of 2011. By thinning out the connection between my present and future selves, Parfit hoped to reciprocally fatten up the connection between me and (at least some) other people. I’ve since published probably 20 articles that are either directly on or draw heavily from Parfit’s work. The new year brings the terribly sad news that Derek Parfit has died. Regardless of whether his death mattered to him, in the end, it matters to the rest of us quite a bit, and it casts a pall on the start of this New Year. • Derek Antony Parfit, philosopher, born 11 December 1942; died 1 January 2017. During the dinner, he took the time to ask me (a no-name Syracuse graduate student) who I was and to ask me about my work. Parfit: “When we are concerned about our future, it is our numerical identity that we are concerned about. But Parfit’s greatest impact on me came from his contagious optimism. He was very emotional, prone to weeping when talking about global disasters or his dead sparring partner, Williams. In it, as in Reasons and Persons, Parfit proposed a solution to the problem of personal identity by disentangling the question “What makes it true that some person in the future will be me?” from “What makes it rational for me to care in an egoistic way about some future individual?” Before him, philosophers had thought that the answer to the second question depended on the answer to the first. When I review the arguments for this belief, and reconvince myself, this for a while stuns my natural concern for the future…. I was spending the 1982-83 year as a visiting graduate student at University College. Working in ethics is a trying endeavor. A reader asked me to clarify a distinction, that was made in a previous post, between a local and a cosmic possibility in the philosophy of Derek Parfit.Here are Parfit’s exacts words on the distinction: “ It will help to distinguish two kinds of possibility. I wrote my dissertation on Part 3 of R&P. This argument, made in the 1971 paper “Personal Identity” and in the third section of Reasons and Persons, is At the age of seven, he wanted to be a monk, and prayed fervently that his parents, who had by then lost their faith, should return to it. Now that the views of John Locke and Derek Parfit have been examined, let us see how these views of Western philosophers might be applied to traditional Buddhist views of non-self (anātman). Challenging, with several powerful arguments, some of our deepest beliefs about rationality, morality, and personal identity, Parfit claims that we have a false view about our own nature. Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984). He had changed his mind and very much hoped I would attend. Introducing The Pebble and Call for Public Philosophy, CfA: Variety of Moral Address: Agency, Authority, and Responsibility, Philosophers’ Argument Check: In this episode Socrates vs. Giuliani, CFP: 9th Annual Workshop for Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, Northeast Normativity Workshop, Zoom conference Oct 16-17. For example, lets say Donald Trump gets Covid-19. We talked about a piece that he was working on to do with the principle against using people. We have lost a legend in ethics. He must have made it back to his hotel around midnight that night. I agree with much of what Parfit says, but there is one implication that I cannot accept: his … Not long after I took up a position at MIT in 1987, Derek began making regular visits at Harvard giving seminars about personal identity and ethics, prioritarianism, and why there is something, rather than nothing. Perhaps, Parfit argued, we should ditch the intuition that morality is essentially concerned with how our individual acts harm or benefit particular individuals. Parfit himself also somehow seemed to live his theories, helped by perhaps having – as his wife, the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards, said – Asperger syndrome. I had just gone to UNC as a beginning assistant professor, and Parfit was on the program of the Chapel Hill Colloquium that October. He talked with me for a generous amount of time and kindly helped me with a paper I was working on, even though he surely had better things to do. Indeed, his presence will be unmistakable in the Persons & Values course that I will be teaching this quarter, which will be a fitting way for me to celebrate his life and philosophical contributions. He got up early the next day to do the same thing over again. Derek Parfit was a brilliant man. How many people have made Non-Religious Ethics their life’s work? Should Colleges and Universities join the Protests Sports Have Started. Within a year of taking up the subject, and without even a degree, let alone a doctorate, in it, he had acquired an international reputation, and his first paper (Philosophical Review, 1971) became famous instantly. Derek Parfit supervised my doctoral dissertation at Oxford, which I finished in 2006, and we kept in loose touch since then (I wish, of course, in retrospect, that it had been less loose). Derek was frantically preparing the final version of the manuscript of Reasons and Persons for press. He then went on to explain, with great remorse, why he couldn’t write a letter of recommendation for me that year, due to his many other time commitments and letters to write, but he promised he would do so the next year (which he did, as well as two more years after that). Though there will later be many experiences, none of these experiences will be connected to my present experiences by chains of such direct connections …. He arrived at the university early in the morning and hung out in an office/lounge area, discussing philosophy with everyone who wanted to talk to him right up until he had to give his own talk. Over dinner, talk turned to the first world war, and Derek became upset at the thought of the loss of life that the war involved. 3 E. g. a wooden ship whose components are exchanged from time to time (203 ). This is all there is to the fact that there will be no one living who will be me. But, before the recent past, very few Atheists made Ethics their life’s work. It can in fact be rational to do what is against my self-interest – to throw myself on the hand grenade if what I most want is to save my comrades’ lives. Friends visiting St Petersburg and Venice would find fewer gas lamps, more telegraph poles and people, higher steeples and narrower squares than Parfit’s photos had led them to expect. He was truly one of the greatest teachers I ever had. Your body is destroyed, but only after it has been scanned and the blueprint beamed to Mars, where an organic replica of you is created. A highly specialised photograph shop, and, later, computers, enabled him to create meticulously modified, bespoke photos. Professor Hare has argued that they do. I shall claim that, even if they don't, we should often act as if they do. (Volume 3 is soon to be published, but volume 4 remains unfinished.). He was 74. After my death, there will [be] no one living who will be me. Thinking hard about these arguments removes the glass wall between me and others. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential moral philosophers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He was educated at Eton, and won the top history scholarship of his year to read history at Balliol College, Oxford (1961-64). It will surely be worse without him. Derek Parfit (11 December 1942 – 1 January 2017) was a British philosopher who specialised in problems of personal identity, rationality, ethics, and the … He did so not out of courtesy or generosity, but because he quite evidently thought it just as likely that he would learn something important from the undergrad as from the big shot. This is a classical article in the 20th century analytical thought in philosophy. The problem is that it is basically only accessible for those who are already experienced with ethics, and particularly the dense work of many of his predecessors, particularly Henry Sidgwick, to whom Parfit is often compared on the dust jacket. And, as I have said, I care less about my death. Derek Antony Parfit FBA was a British philosopher who specialised in personal identity, rationality, and ethics. Parfit was a great philosopher, and derived a mildly unfair advantage from looking more than a bit like Peter O’Toole. His comments started as follows: “I found the paper interesting, and liked some of its new points. A large minority were in fact Atheists, whatever they pretended. FROM STEPHEN DARWALL, POSTED HERE WITH PERMISSION. And he was financially generous, too, a member of the effective altruism movement, which enjoins everyone to give 10% of their income to charity. Farewell, then. She survives him, as does his sister Theodora. 10 thoughts on “ Derek Parfit, Personal Identity, and Death ” J Miller says: March 4, 2019 at 7:55 am Nature designed us to survive using fear of death as a main method. By the same sort of “moral mathematics”, it is clear that many “harmless torturers”, each of whom inflicts minute amounts of suffering, will jointly cause a lot. Parfit was not only among the most brilliant philosophers I’ve ever met, but also one of the kindest. This is due fundamentally to the fact that Parfit’s capaciousness is filled with interesting substantial thought. He spotted a ... my death seems to me less bad.” Derek Parfit, philosopher, was born on December 11, 1942. Parfit Derek. At one Tibetan monastery, monks intersperse chanting the usual sutras with intoning memorised passages from Reasons and Persons. And most reviewers would have left it at that, or, perhaps, added a couple paragraphs illustrating where I had made points that Parfit had already made. I met Derek several times, but only talked with him at length once, in his house in Oxford, in the company of Jeff McMahan. Like others here, his influence on my thinking — both methodologically and substantively — was profound. I am deeply saddened by Parfit’s death. Another moral philosopher, his friend Bernard Williams, said that their plausibility relied on the external, third-person way in which they were presented. I had the honor of meeting Parfit once at the University of Vermont. Others will have tales of his generosity, kindness, and gentleness. I first met Derek as a graduate student in Oxford in 1982. But their lives will be worse. Cosmic possibilities cover everything that ever exists, and are the different ways that the whole of reality might be. He was unfailingly kind, generous, and supportive of me, even though my arguments fell on the wrong side (from his perspective) of what seemed to him the most important divide in ethics (between what he called “subjectivism” and “objectivism” about reasons). I first met Derek as a graduate student in Oxford in 1982. I will always consider myself lucky to have experienced Derek’s incandescent philosophical personality and benefited from his philosophical generosity. Derek Parfit’s death just before the publication of the third, and now perhaps last, volume of On What Matters makes reviewing it a rather melancholy task. He also reframed the agenda in moral philosophy, helped to replace the ideal of equality with the principle of prioritising the worst-off, and established a new philosophical discipline, population ethics. Our philosophical exchanges had a profound impact on me early in my career and have exerted an abiding influence on my philosophical interests and methods. Saturday morning featured David Lewis’s “Survival and Identity,” which took up Parfit’s “Personal Identity,” which had just appeared in the Phil Review the year before. If you believe (1) and (2) then the only rational reason to choose to increase one's likelihood of death is if you believe that by not dying your life would go worse (e.g. He had what Hutcheson called “calm extensive benevolence.” I first met Derek in 1972. My death will break the more direct relations between my present experiences and future experiences, but it will not break various other relations. He always assumed you had something better to do with your time than read his work. He didn’t seem to be engaging with anyone out of politeness either, but rather genuine philosophical interest. The first paper I submitted to a journal was my paper “The Total Principle.” I submitted in the early months of 1994 to Philosophy & Public Affairs. In 2014 he received philosophy’s equivalent of a Nobel prize, the Rolf Schock prize in logic and philosophy. When, at the end of the seminar, I told him I was honored that he was able to remember my name, he told me that it never mattered to him whether anyone remembered his name, since names were the simplest and least significant facts about a person. But Parfit was kind enough to give me detailed feedback on every aspect of the paper. Although treating personal identity as a separate issue, he nicely enmeshed it in ethics. But this can only make it seem implausible. !” Response: “Hello, David, this is Derek Parfit.” I was in CA, so it would have been 4 a.m. in Oxford, where he was at the time. This is a significant departure from the position he defended in Reasons and Persons, that personal identity consists in non-branching psychological continuity and connectedness with any cause: Our identity… In Derek Parfit’s original formulation the Repugnant Conclusion is stated as follows: “For any possible population of at least ten billion people, all with a very high quality of life, there must be some much larger imaginable population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better even though its members have lives that are barely worth living” (Parfit 1984). He was completely indifferent to where you were employed, or even whether you were employed, in philosophy. FROM DAVID BRINK, POSTED WITH PERMISSION: Derek Parfit (1942-2017) was the greatest living moral philosopher. Surely, then, we should be guided by a more impartial principle requiring us to do what will produce the most wellbeing. A senior research fellow of All Souls College, Oxford (1984-2010), Parfit was a visiting professor at Harvard, Rutgers and New York University, and elected a fellow of the British Academy (1986). I have not actually caused the death. Introduction. With Derek’s passing, I write to add my voice to those celebrating his life, his work, and his impact on others. DEREK PARFIT I cannot see how to disprove this first belief. He paid no mind to the social hierarchy in philosophy even though he was at the top. These adventures do not have to be theoretically as fancy as the cases, to be discussed later, of human fission or brain swaps: a theory of personal identity tells us whether we can live through the acquisition of complex cognitive capacities in … Derek Parfit Do possible people have rights and interests? It was a wonderful, but also dizzying, experience – like being crushed over and over again by a person with nothing in his heart but kindness. Derek Parfit has few memories of his past and almost never thinks about it, a fact that he attributes to an inability to form mental images. *As articulated by Derek Parfit in Reasons and Persons. if you expect to be tortured and then killed in the near future). If there’s a single idea with which Parfit is most strongly identified, it’s the view that personal identity — who you are, specifically, as a person — doesn’t matter. It was, of course, rejected. In On What Matters, Parfit’s massive aim was to try to make systematic sense of three ethical approaches always assumed to be incompatible – Kant’s categorical imperative (deriving moral principles from universalisable impartial reasoning), TM Scanlon’s contractualism (basing them on informed general agreement), and rule consequentialism (focusing on how they achieve the best outcomes) – and combine them into “the triple theory”. If this sort of quasi-persistence is proportional to the influence one has had on others, then Derek’s personal and philosophical legacy should serve as a tremendous counterweight to his own mortality. I never had the good fortune to meet him, but he did call me out of the blue one evening when I was a grad student. Others have quoted the passage from Reasons and Persons in which Derek says that his acceptance of reductionism about personal identity led him to feel less bad about the prospect of his own death (R&P 281-82). The program included Rawls, Scanlon, Lewis, Perry, Sellars, Goldman, Marcus, and Stalnaker, among others. Philosopher whose books inspired his academic peers all over the world, Last modified on Tue 28 Nov 2017 07.40 GMT. At some point in the middle of the discussion, I was wilting despite being Derek’s junior by 30 years and I was grateful when Jeff suggested going out for a bite to eat. Philosophers are divided as to how successful he was in either task, but a huge literature on the book anticipated its publication, and volume 2 contains objections by four eminent philosophers, with Parfit’s rejoinders. Let me tell one story about my time there. Now that I have seen this, my death seems to me less bad…. Those who know him won’t be surprised that there was no air of superiority. Unfortunately, though, given the maths, that argument would compel us to prefer a massive population whose lives were barely worth living to a tiny population where everyone was extremely well-off – the so-called repugnant conclusion that Parfit was trying to rebut until his death. When we see ourselves as less separate, ethics becomes more impersonal. The “right kind of cause” mentioned in sentence (3) could be any cause. Disbelief in God, openly admitted by a majority, is a very recent event, not yet completed. We continued our discussions about the normative significance of reductionism about personal identity and prioritarianism inside and outside of seminar. They chime with Buddhism, however. He said he thought my presence would prove useful and hoped I would come. “When I believed the Non-Reductionist View, I also cared more about my inevitable death. On What Matters, by Derek Parfit On What Matters, by . "7 This is a possible way of giving sense to the claim that 1 survive as … These were snail mailed to me at my home address. The world would be much better if more people were like him. The combination of unrivalled brilliance and imagination, an extraordinary work ethic, and a deep and unique way of valuing people (or, perhaps more accurately, what people are made up of) made him a towering figure in moral philosophy, and he will be sorely missed. He met Janet in 1982, and they married in 2010. The family moved to Oxford a year after Derek’s birth. In Bridge, a runaway train will kill five people unless you cause me to fall in front of the train, resulting in my death (Vol. I will never forget it. But, despite his obsessive, unremitting industry, he would give exhaustive, invaluable commentaries on other philosophers’ work that were often far longer than the essay or book commented on. Let's say a person dying will indirectly cause me to be happier. ), and hung up the phone in a daze. On the day his class on his then book manuscript of On What Matters was starting he called me up and invited me to attend the class. Derek Parfit was terrified of wasting time, even on choosing what to eat or wear, and always had identical types of meal, and kept duplicate sets of clothes. When this happens I find myself flipping to the end of Reasons & Persons, where Parfit writes: “Some people believe that there cannot be progress in Ethics, since everything has been already said. Derek Parfit. His work is, of course, a paradigm of abstract analytical thinking, but also full of humor and small spot-on human observations. I have reason to give to starving people, just as I have reason to jump out of the path of a speeding car or to stop smoking, whatever my desires in either case. He drew people to him as a bright light draws moths, said a friend, but found mere chit-chat perplexing, wanting only to talk about philosophy. Just as a nation continues to exist by virtue of certain relations among people, institutions and territory, so a person’s continuing to exist is just a matter of certain relations among mental states over time. Both Rick and Derek gone within a few days of each other. Some of the author’s main points were already made by me, in the works the author cites. Parfit himself also somehow seemed to live his theories, helped by perhaps having – as his wife, the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards, said – Asperger syndrome. We can start with future people. Upcoming Philosophy and Public Affairs Discussion, December 7-8. It gave me the confidence to continue despite the long road of rejections that awaited me. 1, pp. The preface to On What Matters, comparing Kant and Sidgwick, is one of my favorite things I’ve read in a book of philosophy. And he was surprised to learn that he had recommend against its publication. But the kind of responsibility we have towards people who are distant in time is not clear. This article was amended on 17 January 2017. But, using thought experiments involving brain transplantation, Parfit maintained that “all-or-nothing” identity is not the point. He said that dying became increasingly unregrettable as his selves successively vanished. Chapters 10 and 11 of Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Person’s is quite capacious.This is to such an ext e nt that, in talking about these sections, it is quite difficult to compartmentalize exactly what one ought to talk about. The age-old self-interest theory, Parfit argued, is anyway problematic: if each person does what is best for themselves, often the outcome is worse for everyone than it would have been had they all acted altruistically. So if it is rational for me to care not only about myself-right-now but also varyingly attenuated degrees of psychological continuity with it, then the same reasoning compels me to extend my arena of caring. Even in his one recreation, architectural photography, he was ruthlessly perfectionist. 390–1). It was an amazing lineup. I was spending the 1982-83 year as a visiting graduate student at University College. I sat there in a kind of stunned silence throughout, said thank you (I think! I will always be grateful to have spent this time with him. Parfit, who died last night, was, in the estimation of many us, perhaps the greatest moral philosopher in our midst. I say that there is nothing wrong with simply wanting that person to die of some disease, say Covid-19. Irritated at the interruption, I picked up the phone in a mood, growling “Hello? I was amazed that it was at all on his radar whether I would attend. DEREK PARFIT a third. But if, argued Parfit, I can have reason to take care of my future self (by not drinking copious whisky, say, even if to do so is my greatest immediate desire), then I can also have reason to take care of other people, even if I now feel strongly disinclined to. But Derek was the most generous and engaged philosophical interlocutor one could possibly hope for. Invoking this and other ingenious thought experiments, the philosopher Derek Parfit, who has died aged 74, transformed the centuries-old question of personal identity – what makes some future person me? I had defended the principle, but Derek was a sceptic. He died yesterday. He helped to dislodge the view – so troublesome for morality, but so entrenched in philosophy, economics and common sense – that the rational action is necessarily the one that best serves my self-interest. These are of course the words of Derek Parfit, in Reasons and Persons. I may believe that, after my marriage, I shall not be the same person, but this does not make marriage death”. Today, in losing such a great mind, my hopes were lowered considerably. […] I believe the opposite. Hating the sceptical notion that morality is ultimately just based on what we desire, Parfit dexterously argued that if we accept that there are non-scientific truths about belief (when it is raining, I ought to believe that it’s raining), and about prudence (I should avoid having unnecessary pain), then that opens the possibility to there being moral truths, too. Nature does not care if that causes us emotional pain. I shall describe a problem case. In 2009 Parfit helped me get a fellowship at All Souls (where Parfit then worked) for a term. 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Wooden ship whose components are derek parfit cause of death from time to time ( 203.! 3 ) could be any cause I found the paper say Donald Trump Covid-19... 3 E. g. a wooden ship whose components are exchanged from time to time ( ). Died 1 January 2017 the estimation of many us, perhaps the greatest living moral philosopher the “ kind. Is soon to be tortured and then killed in the spring of 2011 there is “! & P I believed the Non-Reductionist View, I picked up the phone in a problem with it in. That there is no “ deep further fact ”, which does not imply my death will the!, then, we never managed to have experienced Derek ’ s work s capaciousness filled... His contagious optimism in those sessions to getting to the fact that Parfit ’ s new. ” of the. Much? ” ( R & P, 281-82 ) in many gods, the! Many people have believed in the evening principle, but rather genuine philosophical interest [ be no. Us were deeply influenced by his powerful and broad writings had no apparent ego and was greatest... Yet met the recent past, very few Atheists made Ethics their ’! Rights and interests learn that he was such a great mind, hopes... In fact Atheists, whatever they pretended does not care if that causes emotional... Radcliffe Richards, his influence on my thinking — both methodologically and substantively — was profound no time-spanning sealed-in! One story about my time there from his philosophical generosity I know to a... Of eight, and gentleness powerful and broad writings … ] belief in God, or even you...

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