Derek Parfit on the New Yorker

I have been meaning to post about this article since it came out a couple of months ago and I finally get around to it.  It is a long New Yorker article about the philosopher Derek Parfit.  Students at Puget Sound encounter Parfit in courses like Introduction to Philosophy, Metaphysics, and I taught a senior seminar on personal identity last spring where we spent about half the semester reading his work.  Here is an abstract of the article:

ABSTRACT: ANNALS OF IDEAS about the moral philosopher Derek Parfit. Most of us care about our future because it is ours—but this most fundamental human instinct is based on a mistake, Derek Parfit believes. Personal identity is not what matters. Parfit is thought by many to be the most original moral philosopher in the English-speaking world. He has written two books, both of which have been called the most important works to be written in the field in more than a century—since in 1874, when Henry Sidgwick’s “The Method of Ethics,” was published. Parfit’s first book, “Reasons and Persons,” was published in 1984, when he was forty-one, and caused a sensation. The book was dense with science-fiction thought experiments, all urging a shift toward a more impersonal, non-physical, and selfless view of human life. Parfit’s view resembles in some ways the Buddhist view of the self. After Parfit finished “Reasons and Persons,” he became increasingly disturbed by how many people believed that there was no such thing as objective moral truth. This led him to write his second book, “On What Matters,” which was published this summer. Parfit lacks the normal anti-social emotions—envy, malice, dominance. He is less aware than most of the boundaries of his self, and he is helplessly, sometimes unwillingly, empathetic. Parfit was born in China, in 1942. The following year, his family moved to England. In the early summer of 1961, he went to work at The New Yorker, as a researcher for The Talk of the Town. In the autumn of 1961, he went up to Oxford to read history. After Oxford, he went back to America for two years on a Harkness Fellowship. He decided to study philosophy, and he won a Prize Fellowship to All Souls, at Oxford, which entitled him to room and board at the college for seven years, with no teaching duties. He also had appointments at Harvard, Rutgers, and N.Y.U. Sometime around 1982 or ’83, the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards moved from London to Oxford, and, after she attended a seminar that Parfit was teaching, they began a relationship. Around the mid-nineties, Parfit started reading Kant. He became more and more troubled by the ways in which Kant diverged from Sidgwick, and by the way that modern Kantians disagreed with modern consequentialists and both disagreed with contractualists. He came up with what he called the Triple Theory: An act is wrong just when such acts are disallowed by some principle that is optimific, uniquely universally willable, and not reasonably rejectable. Mentions Bernard Williams. Parfit moved out of All Souls last year. Since then, he and Richards have been living together in a house in Oxford. Last August, after nearly thirty years together, they married. Meanwhile, Parfit experienced an episode of transient global amnesia. He recovered his memory, but smaller aftershocks have continued.

You can read the whole article, from a campus computer or with subscription, here.


March 1-3, 2012

Keynote Speaker:
C. Kenneth Waters
University of Minnesota

The University of Utah’s Philosophy Department is pleased to announce
the Ninth Annual Intermountain West Graduate Philosophy Conference to
be held March 1-3, 2012.  We are accepting paper submissions in any
area of philosophy.  Papers should be suitable for a twenty minute
presentation followed by ten minutes of Q&A.

Note:  A limited number of spaces are available for exceptional
undergraduate papers.

Paper submissions:

Deadline:  January 6.

Please prepare your paper of no more than 3,500 words for blind review
and submit electronically, along with a cover letter including

•    Author’s Name
•    Paper Title
•    Word count (3,500 word limit)
•    Abstract (150 words)
•    Institutional affiliation
•    Academic Status
•    Paper topic
•    E-mail Address

Submit to:

Applicants will be notified of decisions by the end of January. Each
student will present a paper and provide commentary for another

Call For Papers: Georgia State University’s 10th Annual Student Philosophy Symposium.

Date: Saturday, March 17, 2012

Keynote Speaker:  Professor Valerie Tiberius  –  University of
Minnesota: “To Be or Not To Be (A Parent):  How interdisciplinary
research on well-being can help us with the big questions.”

Location: Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA

Topics: Original, high quality submissions in any area of philosophy
are welcomed from undergraduate or graduate students.

Notes: Papers must be no longer than 3750 words and should be
presented in approximately 25 minutes. All papers should be prepared
for blind review: papers should be free of identifying information,
and accompanied by a brief abstract (not to exceed 250 words).
Notifications of acceptance will be emailed by February 21, 2012. Only
one submission per person will be considered.

Deadline for Submissions: January 20, 2012

Submissions: To submit a paper, please email Noel Martin at All submissions will be acknowledged within
72 hours of receipt.

For further inquiries, contact Claire Murata Kooy at

For full details, see the conference website:
(select link to Philosophy Symposium).

Sponsored by Phi Sigma Tau – Zeta Chapter, the Center for Ethics –
Student Forum, and the Jean Beer Blumenfeld Center for Ethics.

Call for Papers: 2012 Pacific University Conference


April 20-21, 2012
Pacific University
Forest Grove, Oregon

Keynote talk by James Sterba (University of Notre Dame)
Also: Special live taping of the radio show, “Philosophy Talk” (hosted by
John Perry and Ken Taylor)

Submission deadline is FEBRUARY 1, 2012.  Final decisions will be made by
February 28, 2012.

Volunteers for session chairs are also welcome.  Selected papers from the
conference will be published in Volume 3 (2012) of the journal Res Cogitans

The 16th annual Pacific University Undergraduate Philosophy Conference will
be held April 20-21, 2012 on the campus of Pacific University, in Forest
Grove, Oregon.  The purpose of this conference is to provide a forum for the
presentation of philosophical work of undergraduates to their peers.  Papers
are required to be of philosophical content, but there are no specific
restrictions on subject matter within the arena of philosophical discussion
itself.  Papers should be approximately 3000 words (10-12 pages).
Electronic submissions, including paper and abstract (Word documents),
should be sent to:

for more info: