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Why anything? Why this?

Derek Parfit, 22 January 1998

... Why does the Universe exist? There are two questions here. First, why is there a Universe at all? It might have been true that nothing ever existed: no living beings, no stars, no atoms, not even space or time. When we think about this possibility, it can seem astonishing that anything exists. Second, why does this Universe exist? Things might have been, in countless ways, different ...

Why anything? Why this?

Derek Parfit: The universe, part two, 5 February 1998

... In the first half of this essay, I suggested how reality’s deepest features might be partly explained. Of the countless cosmic possibilities, or ways that reality might be, a few have very special features. If such a possibility obtained, that might be no coincidence. Reality might be this way because this way had this feature. Thus, if nothing had ever existed, that might have been true because it was the simplest way for reality to be ...


Amia Srinivasan: Remembering Derek Parfit, 19 January 2017

... Amia Srinivasan’s article in this issue first appeared on the LRB blog. You can read it here ...

Thinking about Death

Michael Wood: Why does the world exist?, 21 March 2013

Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story 
by Jim Holt.
Profile, 307 pp., £12.99, June 2012, 978 1 84668 244 5
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... to Richard Swinburne in Oxford, to David Deutsch in Headington, to John Leslie in Canada, to Derek Parfit, again in Oxford. He meets Roger Penrose in New York, has phone conversations with Steven Weinberg and John Updike. These conversations become a way of evoking possibilities as much as seeking answers, and some of these possibilities are ...

In praise of Brigid Brophy

John Bayley, 5 March 1987

Baroque ’n’ Roll 
by Brigid Brophy.
Hamish Hamilton, 172 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 241 12037 3
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... In his recent book Reasons and Persons the Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit is inclined to decide that persons have no existence, and that the motives to morality are for that reason clearer and more cogent. So-called personality is a matter of self-interest: bees in a hive have no moral problems. Examining their own world and using their own vocabulary, empirical and linguistic philosophers quite naturally and rightly come to such conclusions ...

Personal Identity

Bernard Williams, 7 June 1984

Reasons and Persons 
by Derek Parfit.
Oxford, 543 pp., £17.50, April 1984, 0 19 824615 3
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... of philosophy, and (with the exception of some philosophers such as John Rawls) other disciplines. Derek Parfit has written a brilliantly clever and imaginative book which treats in a very original way a wide range of ethical questions. It spends virtually no time on meta-ethics (perhaps too little), but it avoids many of the deformations that sometimes ...

Five Girls on a Rock

Allan Gibbard: Derek Parfit, 7 June 2012

On What Matters 
by Derek Parfit.
Oxford, 540 pp. and 825 pp., £30, May 2011, 978 0 19 926592 3
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... of moral philosophers is to discern such a rationale and to shape it by criticism and argument. Derek Parfit’s On What Matters looks to two great moral philosophers, Immanuel Kant in the late 18th century and Henry Sidgwick, whose treatise The Methods of Ethics first appeared in 1874. Kant, Parfit writes, ‘is the ...

Nobody at Home

Jon Elster, 2 June 1983

Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism 
by Steven Collins.
Cambridge, 323 pp., £22.50, June 1982, 0 521 24081 6
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Le Bonheur-Liberté: Bouddhisme Profond et Modernité 
by Serge-Christophe Kolm.
Presses Universitaires de France, 637 pp., £150, January 1983, 9782130373162
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... utilitarianism which is beyond doubt closest to his own view: the version developed in the work of Derek Parfit. (Collins does refer to Parfit’s ideas, and in this respect the books can usefully supplement one another.) Kolm has also written important work on the transition to socialism, and is much concerned with the ...

An Identity of My Own

David Pears, 19 January 1989

I: The Philosophy and Psychology of Personal Identity 
by Jonathan Glover.
Allen Lane, 207 pp., £15.95, April 1988, 0 7139 9001 5
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Choice: The Essential Element in Human Action 
by Alan Donagan.
Routledge, 197 pp., £14.95, September 1987, 0 7102 1168 6
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... living my life. But will I survive in duplicate? In his book Reasons and Persons, Derek Parfit argues that I will survive in duplicate, but without my identity, because the line of my particular identity could not possibly continue in both my beneficiaries simultaneously and there is no good reason to suppose that one of them carries it ...

Grounds for Despair

John Dunn, 17 September 1981

After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory 
by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Duckworth, 252 pp., £24, July 1981, 0 7156 0933 5
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... for example, to the recent thinking of philosophers like David Wiggins and Bernard Williams, Derek Parfit, Thomas Nagel and Charles Taylor. (It might also be even harder.) As it is, there seem to be no grounds for optimism at all. For more than a quarter of a century I have found Alasdair MacIntyre the most stirring and the most imaginatively ...

Fearful Thoughts

Stephen Mulhall: Morality by Numbers, 22 August 2002

The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life 
by Jeff McMahan.
Oxford, 554 pp., £35, February 2002, 0 19 507998 1
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... one of the most influential contemporary pieces of metaphysical analysis in this area – that of Derek Parfit. Parfit claims that, in normal circumstances, personal identity (what makes me the same person across time) is a matter of the holding of certain relations of psychological continuity and connectedness ...

Second-Decimal Arguments

Jon Elster, 23 May 1985

The Thread of Life 
by Richard Wollheim.
Harvard, 288 pp., £20, January 1985, 0 06 748875 7
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... to the mental states which can be predicated of him. Here the implicit target of the polemic is Derek Parfit, whose recent Reasons and Persons offers the most complete statement of the view that the person is ‘nothing but’ a sequence of mental and bodily states related in a certain way. At another level, the book is about the temporal structure of ...

Tall, Slender, Straight and Intelligent

Philip Kitcher: Cloning and reprogenetics, 5 March 1998

Clone: The Road to Dolly and the Path Ahead 
by Gina Kolata.
Allen Lane, 218 pp., £15.99, November 1997, 0 7139 9221 2
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Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World 
by Lee Silver.
Weidenfeld, 315 pp., £20, January 1998, 0 297 84135 1
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... genes and a vast number of environmental variables. Moreover, philosophers from John Locke to Derek Parfit and John Perry have rightly insisted on the importance of the continuity of psychological states – experiences, memories, desires and intentions – to personal identity. Cloning raises deep questions about the self only for those who have ...

If Oxfam ran the world

Martha Nussbaum, 4 September 1997

Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence 
by Peter Unger.
Oxford, 187 pp., £35, October 1996, 0 19 507584 6
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... people who have laboured on the question of beneficence and global obligation. Writers such as Derek Parfit, Liam Murphy and Shelly Kagan from the utilitarian tradition, Thomas Nagel, Thomas Scanlon and Thomas Pogge from the Kantian, Gerald Cohen, Brian Barry, the economists Amartya Sen, John Roemer and Partha Dasgupta, all get a nod in a footnote at ...

Is R2-D2 a person?

Galen Strawson, 18 June 2015

Staying Alive: Personal Identity, Practical Concerns and the Unity of a Life 
by Marya Schechtman.
Oxford, 214 pp., £35, March 2014, 978 0 19 968487 8
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... memories and so on) from one immaterial soul or ‘soul-substance’ to another. Derek Parfit also preserves strong bodily similarity in his ‘teletransportation’ thought experiment, a variation on Locke in which a superscanner records every last detail of the structure of one’s body (including one’s brain) and encodes it in ...

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