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Derek Parfit presents the third volume of On What Matters, his landmark work of moral philosophy. Parfit develops further his influential treatment of reasons, normativity, the meaning of moral discourse, and the status of morality. He engages with his critics, and shows the way to resolution of their differences. This volume is partly about what it is for things to matter, Derek Parfit presents the third volume of On What Matters, his landmark work of moral philosophy. Parfit develops further his influential treatment of reasons, normativity, the meaning of moral discourse, and the status of morality. He engages with his critics, and shows the way to resolution of their differences. This volume is partly about what it is for things to matter, in the sense that we all have reasons to care about these things. Much of the book discusses three of the main kinds of meta-ethical theory: Normative Naturalism, Quasi-Realist Expressivism, and Non-Metaphysical Non-Naturalism, which Derek Parfit now calls Non-Realist Cognitivism. This third theory claims that, if we use the word 'reality' in an ontologically weighty sense, irreducibly normative truths have no mysterious or incredible ontological implications. If instead we use 'reality' in a wide sense, according to which all truths are truths about reality, this theory claims that some non-empirically discoverable truths-such as logical, mathematical, modal, and some normative truths-raise no difficult ontological questions. Parfit discusses these theories partly by commenting on the views of some of the contributors to Peter Singer's collection Does Anything Really Matter? Parfit on Objectivity. Though Peter Railton is a Naturalist, he has widened his view by accepting some further claims, and he has suggested that this wider version of Naturalism could be combined with Non-Realist Cognitivism. Parfit argues that Railton is right, since these theories no longer deeply disagree. Though Allan Gibbard is a Quasi-Realist Expressivist, he has suggested that the best version of his view could be combined with Non-Realist Cognitivism. Parfit argues that Gibbard is right, since Gibbard and he now accept the other's main meta-ethical claim. It is rare for three such different philosophical theories to be able to be widened in ways that resolve their deepest disagreements. This happy convergence supports the view that these meta-ethical theories are true. Parfit also discusses the views of several other philosophers, and some other meta-ethical and normative questions.


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Derek Parfit presents the third volume of On What Matters, his landmark work of moral philosophy. Parfit develops further his influential treatment of reasons, normativity, the meaning of moral discourse, and the status of morality. He engages with his critics, and shows the way to resolution of their differences. This volume is partly about what it is for things to matter, Derek Parfit presents the third volume of On What Matters, his landmark work of moral philosophy. Parfit develops further his influential treatment of reasons, normativity, the meaning of moral discourse, and the status of morality. He engages with his critics, and shows the way to resolution of their differences. This volume is partly about what it is for things to matter, in the sense that we all have reasons to care about these things. Much of the book discusses three of the main kinds of meta-ethical theory: Normative Naturalism, Quasi-Realist Expressivism, and Non-Metaphysical Non-Naturalism, which Derek Parfit now calls Non-Realist Cognitivism. This third theory claims that, if we use the word 'reality' in an ontologically weighty sense, irreducibly normative truths have no mysterious or incredible ontological implications. If instead we use 'reality' in a wide sense, according to which all truths are truths about reality, this theory claims that some non-empirically discoverable truths-such as logical, mathematical, modal, and some normative truths-raise no difficult ontological questions. Parfit discusses these theories partly by commenting on the views of some of the contributors to Peter Singer's collection Does Anything Really Matter? Parfit on Objectivity. Though Peter Railton is a Naturalist, he has widened his view by accepting some further claims, and he has suggested that this wider version of Naturalism could be combined with Non-Realist Cognitivism. Parfit argues that Railton is right, since these theories no longer deeply disagree. Though Allan Gibbard is a Quasi-Realist Expressivist, he has suggested that the best version of his view could be combined with Non-Realist Cognitivism. Parfit argues that Gibbard is right, since Gibbard and he now accept the other's main meta-ethical claim. It is rare for three such different philosophical theories to be able to be widened in ways that resolve their deepest disagreements. This happy convergence supports the view that these meta-ethical theories are true. Parfit also discusses the views of several other philosophers, and some other meta-ethical and normative questions.

52 review for On What Matters: Volume 3

  1. 5 out of 5

    Vidur Kapur

    Derek Parfit responds forcefully and persuasively to many of the criticisms made of the first two volumes of 'On What Matters' in a separate companion book, 'Does Anything Really Matter?' He resolves many of his disagreements with Railton and Gibbard, which was encouraging to see. He also attempts to narrow the gap between Act Consequentialism and Common Sense Morality and defend his view that, at times, we have sufficient reason to either act in a self-interested fashion or act in an impartial fa Derek Parfit responds forcefully and persuasively to many of the criticisms made of the first two volumes of 'On What Matters' in a separate companion book, 'Does Anything Really Matter?' He resolves many of his disagreements with Railton and Gibbard, which was encouraging to see. He also attempts to narrow the gap between Act Consequentialism and Common Sense Morality and defend his view that, at times, we have sufficient reason to either act in a self-interested fashion or act in an impartial fashion. These parts of the book were the least persuasive for me. He does not grapple much with the Act Utilitarianism advocated for by the likes of Peter Singer. And he acknowledges that arguments in favour of all reasons being impartial reasons - as argued for by Singer and Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek - have some force, but does not change his view, despite offering very little in favour of his own view, aside from the fact that "most of us" find it implausible that there aren't cases in which we could rationally pursue our own self-interest, which is a mere observation at the end of the day. Therefore, while I am still in agreement with Parfit that there exist irreducibly normative truths, independent of our desires or whims, I disagree with Parfit's normative ethical views, finding the Hedonistic Act Utilitarianism of Singer and de Lazari-Radek, eloquently argued for in their 2014 book 'The Point of View of the Universe', to be more persuasive. Parfit, before his unfortunate death, had planned to write a fourth volume which may have explored these normative disagreements in more depth. As he noted at the end the book, there was much more to say about what actually matters, having spent most of this volume defending the view that there are things that actually matter. It is a shame that he is no longer here to offer what would have been some fascinating views.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Andrei Khrapavitski

    Derek Parfit died in January 2017. I had heard of his great contributions to philosophy quite a lot. His thought experiments come up regularly in specialized literature. But I have to confess I started reading Parfit only after he passed away. Now I finally finished reading the last of his published books: Volume Three of On What Matters. Since January I’ve read all of his published works. And I have to tell you. This is when I really went back to appreciating philosophy again. There was a point Derek Parfit died in January 2017. I had heard of his great contributions to philosophy quite a lot. His thought experiments come up regularly in specialized literature. But I have to confess I started reading Parfit only after he passed away. Now I finally finished reading the last of his published books: Volume Three of On What Matters. Since January I’ve read all of his published works. And I have to tell you. This is when I really went back to appreciating philosophy again. There was a point (after reading a bunch of European continental authors) when I thought that this field kind of lost itself. With great philosophers long dead, there was a sort of an existential crisis in the field. Some scientists went as far as to claim that philosophy was no longer necessary. I believe such claims are too bold. One reason why philosophy should come to the fore in the XXI century is because more and more humans are losing their religion. This is not happening across the board, but it is especially noticeable in the West. There are concerns that without belief in god(s) we humans will lose our moral compass. I don’t believe it is the case. But the void must be filled by good moral philosophy. Related issue is search for meaning and some sort of spirituality without dogmas is a challenge for many people. Enter Parfit. His works are hard to read for non-philosophers, but he not only left his mark on the field of secular moral philosophy but motivated some people to become a part of growing effective altruism movement. Second reason is that we humans need global thinkers able to persuade more of us that no matter what race or nationality we are born into we share common destiny and responsibilities to share our wealth, to try to diminish suffering in this world and improve the wellbeing of all sentient species. And we have those responsibilities not just for the living but also future generations. Third reason for relevance of philosophy, especially moral philosophy is the great advances in the field of artificial intelligence. Some AI experts agree that one of the major problems in building artificial general intelligence in the value alignment problem. In this context, the death of Parfit is a big blow, since his seminal work On What Matters tries to resolve major disagreements between three schools of moral philosophy: Kantian deontology, Contractualism and Consequentialism. No other author had attempted anything of that kind. No other author proposed anything closer to a Unified Theory. Of course, apart from Parfit, there are still brilliant living philosophers. But guess what? Many of those who make a lot of sense (for instance, Peter Singer, William MacAskill, Toby Ord, Sam Harris) are influenced by Parfit. OK, now to Parfit’s books. If you want a true philosophical masterpiece, by all means read Reasons and Persons. Originally published in 1984, it is still relevant and influential in normative moral philosophy. On What Matters is Parfit’s life work. It is not an easy read. In the first two volumes, as I mentioned before, the author tried to resolve the disagreements between three kinds of systematic moral theory: Kantian, Contractualist, and Consequentialist. In Volume Three, he attempted to resolve the deepest meta-ethical disagreements between Naturalism, Non-Naturalism, and Quasi-Realist Expressivism. Additionally, and this is probably the most interesting part, he tried to resolve some of the disagreements between Act Consequentialism and Common Sense Morality. Alas, he did not succeed to come up with a Unified Theory he was searching for. But he did outline possible principles for such a theory. Strangely what he proposed, at least in my reading, was closer to a form of revised utilitarianism (even without calling it that name) than to other rival theories. But he was also right to note that philosophers sometimes disagree where they really shouldn’t or where these disagreements were not irreconcilable. Maybe he could’ve progressed further on his path toward the unified theory if he had finished Volume Four. At the end of Volume Three, Parfit regretted that, in a book called On What Matters, he had said so little about what matters. At least, he briefly wrote on that subject. Here comes the bit that he, I guess, wanted to expand on in the fourth chapter, but, alas, other authors will have to work on that: “One thing that greatly matters is the failure of we rich people to prevent, as we so easily could, much of the suffering and many of the early deaths of the poorest people in the world. The money that we spend on an evening’s entertainment might instead save some poor person from death, blindness, or chronic and severe pain. If we believe that, in our treatment of these poorest people, we are not acting wrongly, we are like those who believed that they were justified in having slaves. Some of us ask how much of our wealth we rich people ought to give to these poorest people. But that question wrongly assumes that our wealth is ours to give. This wealth is legally ours. But these poorest people have much stronger moral claims to some of this wealth. We ought to transfer to these people, in ways that I mention in an endnote, at least ten per cent of what we inherit or earn. What now matters most is how we respond to various risks to the survival of humanity. We are creating some of these risks, and we are discovering how we could respond to these and other risks. If we reduce these risks, and humanity survives the next few centuries, our descendants or successors could end these risks by spreading through this galaxy. Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine. In Nietzsche’s words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea. If we are the only rational beings in the Universe, as some recent evidence suggests, it matters even more whether we shall have descendants or successors during the billions of years in which that would be possible. Some of our successors might live lives and create worlds that, though failing to justify past suffering, would have given us all, including those who suffered most, reasons to be glad that the Universe exists.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Some remarks (by no means constituting a "review"): Parfit may be best remembered for his generosity. Here, he is generous to his readers, as he once again provides penetrating, cautious, clear, and brief summaries of everything to follow so one needn't wade through sections that don't hold any special interest. He is likewise generous to his critics/colleagues, with much (perhaps too much?) of this volume taken up with responses to a companion book of essays critiquing the first two volumes of t Some remarks (by no means constituting a "review"): Parfit may be best remembered for his generosity. Here, he is generous to his readers, as he once again provides penetrating, cautious, clear, and brief summaries of everything to follow so one needn't wade through sections that don't hold any special interest. He is likewise generous to his critics/colleagues, with much (perhaps too much?) of this volume taken up with responses to a companion book of essays critiquing the first two volumes of this work. Many chapters are filled with attempts to resolve meta-ethical misunderstandings and (perceived) disagreements between Naturalism, Non-Naturalism, and Quasi-Realist Expressivism and their various proponents. I found these sections enlivening for the methods of argument and discussion, though the conclusions were at times difficult for me to sufficiently assess (as an interested layman). "Trolley problems" continue to abound - while such concrete examples are arguably helpful to compare/assess various ethical theories, the application of such far-fetched, constrained, hypothetical situations to real world conundrums is not always clear or convincing. I doubt Parfit would waste his time watching much television, but I wonder how he would have reacted to The Good Place's gruesome/amusing pillorying of such thought experiments. Per Parfit, the heart of the book is an attempt to resolve perceived disagreements between Act Consequentualism and Common Sense Morality, largely by effacing the former (or replacing it with elements of Rule and/or Motive Consequentualism). I found this section stronger than other chapters, in part because his examples are more often drawn from the thorny ethical problems of addressing global poverty, wealth inequality, climate change, etc. I wish Parfit had lived to complete a more thorough explication of his Unified Theory, but he leaves behind a clearer picture of what this project would have consisted of, though its applications and implications remain open for future exploration.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    In this final volume of his landmark work, Derek Parfit responds to several of his critics and the result is actually some of his most insightful and potent material in the "On What Matters" collection. Where in the first two volumes, the focus was on Parfit's unification of three different moral theories, those being Kantianism, Contractualism, and Rule Consequentialism; this final volume focuses on resolving the seeming disagreements between Parfit's own views of (Non-metaphysical) Non-Natural In this final volume of his landmark work, Derek Parfit responds to several of his critics and the result is actually some of his most insightful and potent material in the "On What Matters" collection. Where in the first two volumes, the focus was on Parfit's unification of three different moral theories, those being Kantianism, Contractualism, and Rule Consequentialism; this final volume focuses on resolving the seeming disagreements between Parfit's own views of (Non-metaphysical) Non-Naturalism with the Naturalist and Quasi-Realist Expressivist views of Allan Gibbard and Peter Railton, respectively. This he has done admirably well and the ensuing discussion and commentary is the highlight of the work. There are some whose objections will not be resolved, mainly that of Simon Blackburn who I believe fundamentally misunderstands much of what it is that Parfit was arguing. Parfit actually concludes his chapter on Blackburn by quoting the Queen of Hearts, "Off With his Head!"Parfit also follows these areas with a dense yet productive discussion of the disagreements (or lack thereof) between Act Consequentialism and Common Sense Morality. In responding to some of his critics Parfit has further elucidated and clarified much of what was taken mistakenly by himself in responding to several philosophers in his first two volumes and also what was taken mistakenly by those responding to OWM. This is a must have for readers of this landmark work.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Technomonk

    Wow I'm still captivated, three volumes in. I feel more capable with this problem domain than I was before beginning Parfit's great work. Wow I'm still captivated, three volumes in. I feel more capable with this problem domain than I was before beginning Parfit's great work.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Oliver Rawle

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jhc

  8. 4 out of 5

    Claire’s

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Conlon

  10. 5 out of 5

    Virat

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    Pablo Stafforini

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sigurd

  13. 4 out of 5

    Omar

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ctkrohn

  15. 5 out of 5

    Libdep

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Dietz

  17. 4 out of 5

    Harry Rappaport

  18. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Hurt

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nick

  20. 5 out of 5

    Valentin Sanchez

  21. 4 out of 5

    Martin

  22. 5 out of 5

    Simeon

  23. 5 out of 5

    Desmond Brown

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sven Vadeboncœur

  25. 4 out of 5

    Varga Sámuel

  26. 4 out of 5

    R

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kevin McGuiness

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rob Sica

  29. 4 out of 5

    Harshit Aggarwal

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kirk

  31. 5 out of 5

    Rasmus

  32. 4 out of 5

    Noah

  33. 5 out of 5

    Risto Uuk

  34. 4 out of 5

    Tarn

  35. 5 out of 5

    Onur Vassaf

  36. 4 out of 5

    Brad N

  37. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

  38. 4 out of 5

    Dakota

  39. 5 out of 5

    Darjeeling

  40. 5 out of 5

    Aristogama Inounu

  41. 4 out of 5

    Andrew David Burt

  42. 4 out of 5

    Tom Carr

  43. 4 out of 5

    Pavel

  44. 5 out of 5

    Kaspars Kursišs

  45. 4 out of 5

    Kramer Thompson

  46. 5 out of 5

    Erik Bjäreholt

  47. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Blumenreich

  48. 4 out of 5

    Alexandru Stanciu

  49. 4 out of 5

    Ben

  50. 5 out of 5

    Irina

  51. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Criste

  52. 5 out of 5

    John

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