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On What Matters (2 Volume Set) Since my review is so extensive I have posted here my introduction and conclusion, for the rest of the review, please follow this link Why On What Matters MattersIntroductionThis is a lengthy review for a lengthy book, and much of what is covered in it will not be discussed here This is not because these themes are unimportant, but because they do not concern me personally This may seem to be a somewhat self serving approach, but I think it is significantly justified by the sheer size of the w Since my review is so extensive I have posted here my introduction and conclusion, for the rest of the review, please follow this link Why On What Matters MattersIntroductionThis is a lengthy review for a lengthy book, and much of what is covered in it will not be discussed here This is not because these themes are unimportant, but because they do not concern me personally This may seem to be a somewhat self serving approach, but I think it is significantly justified by the sheer size of the work and the enormous depth of argument.The topics which I have chosen to exclude are those that are the concern of Parts 2 5, and I will briefly explain why I have omitted their discussion here before I move on Part 2 concerns Kant s ethics and his contribution to moral philosophy In it, Parfit criticizes nearly all of Kant s ideas and proposes what he takes to be Kantian solutions to those difficulties Parfit s hope is that these revisions, by being approached in a Kantian way, would be acceptable to Kant Whether this is true or not, I cannot say I am by no means an expert on Kant or his moral philosophy, and I will leave it to those better informed to properly assess Parfit s ideas.Part 3 concerns Parfit s Triple Theory Parfit does the same for Contractualism and Consequentialism that he does for Kantianism For each normative approach, Parfit criticizes and improves those concepts which he finds particularly problematic What happens is that each theoryspecifically, Parfit s idea of the best versions of each theory can accommodate each other theory so that they all converge to a point This point, Parfit hopes, is the supreme principle of morality, and each theory is just one way of reaching this single point It is worth noting that Parit does not consider his Triple Theory to be the property which makes acts right or wrong, but that it is the fundamental principle by which we can know what is Although this is arguably the heart of this two volume behemoth, I have chosen not to say anythingabout it This is partly for the simple fact that I find the idea of a single supreme principle of morality to be unlikely and I am skeptical of Parfit s gerry meandering approach to it It is, perhaps, possible to find a principle which accommodates multiple normative theories, but I seriously doubt the significance of such a project It seems one could take Parfit s same approach, find different points of contention and different solutions to resolve those difficulties of each theory and consequently wind up with a different principle entirely If this is possible, as I have little doubt that it is, it may be done multiple times by multiple philosophers resulting in multiple supreme principles which may conflict with each other Perhaps some further philosopher may come along and decide to do the same for these supreme principles and find some further convergence leading to a supra supreme principle of morality And so on, ad infinitum.With this possibility in mind, we have reason to doubt that Parfit has actually uncovered the supreme principle of morality We also have reason to doubt such a project will lead us to one Perhaps we can simply admit that there are irreconcilable disagreements between moral theories This would not satisfy Parfit for reasons I explain towards the end of this review We could also concede that there are many independent normative truths and that morality is not as simple as most philosophers hope Maybe there is some other set of options available Whatever we choose, it seems clear enough to me that Parfit s approach is less than ideal.Part 4 is a collection of critical essays by various philosophers and Part 5 consists in Parfit s responses These are all quite interesting in their own right I do not cover these because I see this review as something of an extension of this.This leaves Part 1 and 6 I have chosen to discuss Part 1 because it is 1 the bedrock of Parfit s theory and 2 because I agree with a great deal of it I think Parfit s Wide Dualist solution to Sidwick s dualism is most likely correct I agree with Parfit about rightness and wrongness being about expectability And I think his account of reasons is generally correct This first section can stand independently from every other section except for Part 6 Part 6 deals with Parfit s metaethics, and is, to me, the most important aspect of Parfit s work.Despite my exclusion of these areas of On What Matters, it is important to emphasize that they are extremely fascinating and rewarding Many of Parfit s most interesting discussions are to be found there Anyone who decides to skip these sections entirely will be doing themselves a great disservice.ConclusionAs I mentioned previously, there are many instances where Parfit diverts arguments by claiming that certain philosophers lack a concept of normativity in a reason implying sense This is significant in many ways This is evident throughout the work, but made explicit in Parfit s chapter 30, Normative Truths,which is deeply personal In it, he discusses the idea of disagreement and epistemological peers Parfit worries that if two reasonable and rational people disagree, it may be possible that one cannot give greater weight to one s own beliefs than to someone who is one s epistemological peer These worries are applied to the disagreement Parfit has with other moral philosophers in general and Bernard Williams in particular.Williams is a philosopher whom Parfit deeply admires He is concerned with their disagreements on fundamental meta ethical principles, and with good reason If Williams is correct, Parfit s own work and concern with ethics are an illusion Parfit thinks that the questions with which he is dealing do have objective answers As such, one of them must be either wrong or mistaken Parfit does not want to simply claim that Williams is wrong, since he believes Williams is a brilliant moral philosopher Instead, Parfit comes to the conclusion that Williams simply lacks Parfit s notion of irreducibly normative reasons and ultimately conflates psychological reasons with normative reasons because he misunderstands Parfit s views.I am not sure this is true Williams, rather, seems to suggest that there can be no such thing as what philosophers like Parfit suppose irreducibly normative reasons are and develops his own theory accordingly.Although this is a common line of argument, I think Parfit is partly right Many Subjectivists think that for a reason to be a reason it must cause one to act, or have a motivational force Parfit denies this Many Subjectivists, like Williams, believe this and this belief may presuppose their overall meta ethical theories If it is true that a reason can only be such if it has motivational force, it must be something at least partly psychological and internal If we think this is an essential component of what it is to be a reason, then we really are not talking about the same concept Parfit is discussing.As far as conceptual understanding of the notion of a reason is concerned, these two considerations seem equally valid We are left with something of a chicken or the egg dilemma If the latter comes first, i.e our metaphysical naturalism leads us to believe reasons must have motivating force, there really is a conflict between the views of Subjectivists and Parfit If the latter is primary, i.e motivational force is considered a necessary component of a reason which leads to believing that all that is metaphysically needed are internal reasons, there is no disagreement, but rather a misunderstanding.I m not sure which is primary, but it is clear that it is the metaphysical presupposition which poses the greatest threat to being a genuine disagreement with Parfit s view To bypass this, Parfit either needs to provide sufficient justification for denying naturalism, or else accepting it and grounding normativity in it It is obvious that it is the former approach that Parfit hopes to take He has already been convinced through his arguments that Naturalism is not compatible with Normative Realism This leaves him the one option.I have already, successfully I think, shown that Parfit s arguments against Non Analytic Naturalism are not decisive As such, it is open to Parfit, or at least other philosophers to accept an Objectivist Non Analytic Naturalism These philosophers will genuinely understand Parfit s views and will genuinely disagree But they will disagree metaphysically, not normatively This should ease his mind a little.Parfit, in concluding that most Subjectivists fail to share his concept of a reason, believes that he has been deeply misunderstood It is clear that this causes him great distress What s worse, and not mentioned by Parfit himself, are the consequences of his confessions within this chapter to a Subjectivist if he is in fact correct Not only would such a reader fail to understand Parfit s notion of a reason, he will also see these confessions as Parfit s own psychological motivations, or reasons, for defending his meta ethical view Because Parfit denies that motivational force has anything to do with normative truth, Parfit can admit to his desire for the disagreements between him and other philosophers to be merely apparent But if he is right, these other philosophers will misunderstand his view and take his confessions to be evidence for their own Subjectivist view.I do not believe that Parfit is altogether correct But I also do not think this is nearly as devastating as Parfit himself would think Although I disagree with Parfit s meta ethical view, it is only in terms of metaphysics Parfit s failure to argue against Non Analytic Naturalism should be considered a good thing At least this way, it leaves open the possibility of an Objective Naturalist view to be accepted as well as Parfit s own.There is muchto be said for and against this work Some sections are so thick in concepts and arguments, it seems almost impossible to get through Others arelight and entertaining as, for example, the wonderful chapter at the end of the second volume on Nietzsche s ethics His Appendices are also extremely rewarding and engrossing, particularly themetaphysical ones like D Why Anything Why This There is, of course, a lot of material covered here No single review can do justice to the philosophical treasures within these two volumes This was clearly a labor of love on Parfit s part and is equally deserving of laborious attention from anyone concerned with ethics Amazingly, Parfit is able to compile this behemothian text with humor, countless thought experiments, and philosophical riddles to occupy philosophers professional and amateur alike for decades, perhaps even centuries, to come Used it as introduction to ethics and moral philosophy Very effective for that purpose. Derek Parfit is without doubt one of those thinkers who returned my interest in philosophy His seminal work Reasons and Persons is one of my favorite books of all time If you haven t read Parfit, read that book It s unbelievable On What Matters is a much longer read Some of it may be uninteresting to those of you who are not into philosophy Some parts can, in fact, be skipped as Parfit himself noted But if you enjoy his style, it s hard to put that book down There are many reviews of Derek Parfit is without doubt one of those thinkers who returned my interest in philosophy His seminal work Reasons and Persons is one of my favorite books of all time If you haven t read Parfit, read that book It s unbelievable On What Matters is a much longer read Some of it may be uninteresting to those of you who are not into philosophy Some parts can, in fact, be skipped as Parfit himself noted But if you enjoy his style, it s hard to put that book down There are many reviews of this book out there One of the best is probably by Peter Singer So let me point out what I found especially fascinating, given my long lasting interest in the philosophy of pessimism I read a lot of books arguing for it, but I found very few good non religious rebuttals.In Volume 2, Parfit offers the strongest rebuttal of the philosophy of pessimism and anti natalism I ve seen I can t possibly post his whole argument, but just a few thoughts to consider.First, the obvious something s existence is in itself good if it is better than nothing, and bad if it is worse than nothing.Was our whole history and our present so bad, as some pessimists claim, that we shouldn t procreate or if an asteroid is on the collision course with the Earth, we should welcome it as the worthy ending for our wretched existence Consider our own lives If my past life has been worse than nothing, my future may not be good enough to make my life as a whole worth living, and it would then be true that it would have been better if I had never existed But it might be better if I continue to exist from now on Even if my past has not been worth it, and my life as a whole will not have been worth it, my future may be worth it The same can be argued about our species as a whole Many of those who suffered and died in the past attempted to help to give humanity a good future These people would have wanted us to try to achieve their aims and, if we succeed, some of their suffering may not have been in vain.As Parfit writes, Even if our children s lives would be worse than nothing, they might decide to bear such burdens, as many people have earlier done, for the sake of helping to give humanity a good future We could justifiably have children, letting them decide whether to act in this noble way, rather than making this decision on their behalf, by never having children When Pessimism was most discussed, in the late nineteenth century, some Pessimists claimed that hardly anyone could have a life that was worth living Some of these people assumed that their personal experience gave them sufficient evidence for this claim That is not so The evidenceplausibly supports the view that, though many people have such wretched lives, many others have lives that are well worth living Many Pessimists assumed that the nature of human life is fixed, so that what is true now will always be true For the earliest Pessimists, such as Buddha and some ancient Greeks, that may have been a reasonable assumption By the mid nineteenth Century, however, it should have been clear that human existence could be radically transformed Though the world started to become uglier, anaesthetics were discovered We shall soon be able to prevent most human suffering.We live during the hinge of history Given the scientific and technological discoveries of the last two centuries, the world has never changed as fast If we act wisely in the next few centuries, humanity will survive its most dangerous and decisive period Our descendants could, if necessary, go elsewhere, spreading through this galaxy.Compared with the possible future, the past is very short Parfit concludes, Just as we had ancestors who were not human, we may have descendants who will not be human We can call such people supra human Our descendants might, I believe, make the further future very good But that good future may also depend in part on us If our selfish recklessness ends human history, we would be acting very wrongly Such acts might be worse for no one but, as I have argued, that fact could not justify these acts Philosophical mic drop.Are you not convinced to read this book yet Parfit now presents a powerful new treatment of reasons, rationality, and normativity, and a critical examination of three systematic moral theories Kant s ethics, contractualism, and consequentialism leading to his own ground breaking synthetic conclusion Along the way he discusses a wide range of moral issues, such as the significance of consent, treating people as a means rather than an end, and free will and responsibility Discontinued reading For now. On What Matters Is A Major Work In Moral Philosophy It Is The Long Awaited Follow Up To Derek Parfit S Book Reasons And Persons, One Of The Landmarks Of Twentieth Century Philosophy Parfit Now Presents A Powerful New Treatment Of Reasons, Rationality, And Normativity, And A Critical Examination Of Three Systematic Moral Theories Kant S Ethics, Contractualism, And Consequentialism Leading To His Own Ground Breaking Synthetic Conclusion Along The Way He Discusses A Wide Range Of Moral Issues, Such As The Significance Of Consent, Treating People As A Means Rather Than An End, And Free Will And Responsibility On What Matters Is Already The Most Discussed Work In Moral Philosophy Its Publication Is Likely To Establish It As A Modern Classic Which Everyone Working On Moral Philosophy Will Have To Read, And Which Many Others Will Turn To For Stimulation And Illumination


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