Here is a long New Yorker profile of him. UD’s favorite part is not about Parfit, but about one of his friends.

If [Bernard Williams] had a highest value, it was authenticity. To him, the self was, in the end, all we have. But, in most cases, this wasn’t much — most people were stupid and cruel. Williams enjoyed his life, but he was a pessimist of the bleakest sort. He told a student that the last stanza of Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” summed up his view of things:

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain . . .


What [Parfit] found most disturbing was Williams’s view of meta-ethics. Williams believed that there were no objectively true answers to questions of right and wrong, or even to questions of prudence. To him, morality was a human system that arose from human wants and remained dependent on them. This didn’t mean that people felt any less fiercely about moral questions—if someone felt that cruelty was vile, he could believe it wholeheartedly even if he didn’t think that that vileness was an objective fact, like two plus two equals four. But, to Parfit, if it wasn’t true that cruelty was wrong, then the feeling that it was vile was just a psychological fact—flimsy, contingent, apt to be forgotten.

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One Response to “Derek Parfit, Moral Philosopher, Has Died.”

  1. dmf Says:

    “pessimist of the bleakest sort”
    typical response to realism.

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