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On What Matters: Volume One (The Berkeley Tanner Lectures) and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

On What Matters, Vol. 1 (The Berkeley Tanner Lectures) 1st Edition

5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199572809
ISBN-10: 0199572801
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"an epochal work ... Parfit's intellectual personality radiates throughout On What Matters, which as a whole presents a gripping and illuminating picture of a single, comprehensive view of the projects of both normative and metaethical inquiry." --Mark Schroeder, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews


"the most significant work in ethics since Sidgwick's masterpiece was published in 1873 ... a work of epic proportions and ambitions." --Peter Singer, Times Literary Supplement


"Parfit's intricate and beautifully lucid book is undoubtedly the work of a philosophical genius." --John Cottingham, The Tablet


About the Author


Derek Parfit is one of the leading philosophers of our time. He is a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, Global Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at New York University, and a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of Reasons and Persons (OUP, 1984), one of the most influential books in philosophy of the last several decades.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (June 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199572801
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199572809
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.9 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #928,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A philosopher on November 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Most professional philosophers regard Derek Parfit as the greatest living moral philosopher. For most the past quarter of a century, Parfit has devoted his formidable philosophical abilities to developing the arguments for the two main claims of his new epic two-volume work. The first of these claims is that the three major traditions in ethical theory - Kantianism, Contractualism, and Consequentialism - ultimately converge. If this is true, much of what we have assumed to be deep and intractable moral disagreement is actually merely superficial, or merely apparent. The second claim is that there are moral truths that are irreducibly normative - that is, not mere expressions of emotions or attitudes, not reducible to natural facts, but not supernatural in origin either. These are conclusions that we have reason to hope are true. And there is a great deal more in these two volumes than just the rigorous arguments for these conclusions. Two major moral philosophers - Peter Singer and Brad Hooker - have both written in published reviews that On What Matters is the most important work in moral philosophy since Henry Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics, which was published in 1873. But that may be too modest, for it is arguable that Parfit has surpassed even Sidgwick. No one who is seriously interested in ethics can afford to not to read these two magisterial volumes.
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26 of 36 people found the following review helpful By vivere on June 28, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Sorry, this is not a review, just an alert that what you get as of June 27, 2011, is volume TWO, and not volume One as indicated. I reported the problem, and I hope it will be corrected. Before you buy the kindle edition labeled as Volume I, just get the sample first and check to make sure that the mix up has been corrected, unless you want to start with Volume TWO, which also includes some comments for Volume ONE.
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An Amazon.com official commented on this review(What's this?)
The publisher has made quality improvements to this Kindle Edition in the following area(s): incorrect content. If you have purchased an older version of this title and wish to receive the improved content, please contact Customer Support by clicking on the Contact Us button on our Help Pages. When your content is updated, you will no longer be able to view any highlights, bookmarks, and notes made in your current version and your furthest reading location will be lost.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Wolgin on February 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I think Parfit presents his ethical views with amazing ingenuity and nearly-robotic clarity, but passionate determination too. In the second half of the book, he argues that we can unify the most plausible versions of three major ethical theories: Kantianism, Social Contract Theory, and Consequentialism. According to his "Triple Theory", we should follow the set of principles that everyone could rationally will to be accepted universally, because such acceptance would make things go best. (p. 413)

In the first half of the book, Parfit tenaciously advances his theory of Objectivism about reasons. This view says facts can give you reasons to act, desire and believe things, regardless of what you may want. Here are two examples: 1) If you can save a bleeding stranger's life just by calling an ambulance, then that fact gives you a reason to do it, even if you'd rather not. 2) Everyone has a decisive reason to avoid agony.

Subjectivists must deny such intuitive claims. On their view, you have a reason to do something just in case you want to, or would want to after careful, informed deliberation. Besides having counterintuitive implications, Parfit argues, Subjectivism is groundless. If our desires are not fundamentally supported by some reason(s), then they are merely arbitrary. Arbitrary desires could not then give us reasons to do things. "So Subjective theories are built on sand," he concludes. (p. 91)

I think Parfit makes many important refinements of Kant's views on respect, consent, desert and the Golden Rule. To my surprise, he seems to show that it's not always wrong to use someone merely as a means to your own ends, and harm him without his consent!
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15 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Pike on January 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
"What is good and what is not good? Do we need anyone to tell us these things?"

It's a pattern as old as Socrates: pick a nice, empty rhetorical container on which there is some vaguely general agreement--"Good" or "True" or, in Parfit's case, "Reason(s)"--then fill it with whatever you want. It cannot be denied that Parfit has constructed a meticulous rhetorical edifice, a recitation of definitions to rival Webster, but the sum total of his contribution appears to be the claim that deontology, consequentialism, and contractualism should all yield the same ethical results (even though, as presently understood by their various proponents, they don't). All of this is founded on a notion of "reasons" that sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails, at least to the extent that an ordinary-language descriptive-ethics is what Parfit intends. Kudos to Parfit for constructing a work as labyrinthine as anything Kant ever penned; simply attempting to decipher some of Parfit's claims should give philosophy professors something to argue about at great length and for years to come (indeed, some such arguments are already included in Volume 2!). So good news, I suppose, if you're in need of a thesis, but do not expect anything approaching conceptual clarity to arise from this mess.

Somewhat more particularly, I felt that Parfit's most egregious mistake was classifying virtue ethics, without comment, as a sub-category of consequentialism (it's not). He completely ignores some of the most interesting ordinary-language ethics to come out of academic philosophy in the last thirty years.
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On What Matters, Vol. 1 (The Berkeley Tanner Lectures)
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