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Reasons and Persons

3.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0198249085
ISBN-10: 019824908X
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 20, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019824908X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198249085
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 1 x 5.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Julian Sanchez on August 28, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I first read this book on a trip across Europe, I was blown away: I remember thinking again and again "How can something this blow-the-roof-off important be published so late in the game?" Parfit shows how some of our most common-sensical beliefs about self-interest, ethics, personal identity, and (perhaps most interestingly) our obligations to future generations are beset with surprising and thorny problems, or even flatly self-contradictory or incoherent. He's also the master of the subtle-but-important distinction. Probably several longish books could be spun out from all the original material in Reasons and Persons-- certainly many journal articles already have been! However: while Parfit's style is very clear, and he doesn't refer as extensively as some philosophers to the work of previous authors, I probably wouldn't want to tackle this bad boy without at least some training in philosophy.
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Format: Paperback
This isn't an easy book either to read or to review, and I don't expect I'll be able to provide an adequate summary of it here. But it's one of those massively important books that there's just no way to get around. It's easily the most weighty and thorough work of utilitarian ethics since Henry Sidgwick's _The Methods of Ethics_, and it has something of Sidgwick's spirit of judicious reasonableness.
Derek Parfit exploded onto the scene with this book in 1984. His work is a goldmine of helpful reflections on, and criticisms of, our ordinary notions of moral behavior, rationality, and personality.
The work is divided into four major parts. In the first, he argues that many of our common-sense moral theories are "self-defeating" in the manner of a Prisoner's Dilemma (which, by the way, is the part that first interested me in the book). In the second, he considers the relations between rationality and time and worries about how we should take the past and the future into ethical account. In the third, he offers a theory of personal identity and its relations to morality. In the fourth, he considers the role that future generations ought to play in our moral deliberations.
Well, sure enough, that's _not_ an adequate summary. I haven't even begun to convey the sheer virtuousity with which Parfit raises objections, makes distinctions, brings out difficulties that are so un-obvious that nobody ever noticed them before, and generally develops his arguments with clarity and vigor. Heck, I haven't even adequately conveyed his views themselves.
So I guess you'll just have to do what I did: read the book. If you have any interest in ethics, you're going to have to read it _sometime_. So get a copy, put it on your bookshelf, take it down and browse through it once in a while.
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By A Customer on January 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
As a graduate student of philosophy doing a thesis on personal identity, I'd say that this is one of the best books available on the topic for several reasons: 1)the scope of the material that is covered; 2) the prose is very smooth - this should be an accessible read for most people; 3) Parfit's analogies are very instructive in challenging our commonsense views of personal identity.
Anyone who has read and enjoyed books by John Searle and Daniel Dennett will probably appreciate Parfit's work.
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By A Customer on October 13, 1998
Format: Paperback
Parfit's work contains the clearest and most cogent analysis of the philsophical problem of personal identity--i.e., the problem of what makes one the same person over time--I have ever seen. The stuff on ethics and our duties toward future generations is also excellent. Parfit's arguments will challenge, distrub, and perhaps even frighten, any thinking person. This book is a must read. I have nothing bad to say about it.--Greg Klebanoff
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Format: Paperback
Parfit writes with the utmost clarity about almost intractable subjects. The book consists of four quite different parts: self-defeating theories, rationality and time, personal identity, future generations.

The four parts are quite independent, but connected by an attack on the Self-interest theory (as defined on the first page).

Parfit reaches many conclusions, but also leaves many questions open. In some cases he says he hasn't found a solution yet (as in the "Theory X" that would "solve" the paradoxes about future generations), in other cases he says that both competing theories can be convincingly defended.

Many examples and counter examples are presented throughout the book, and the thought experiments are always cleverly constructed. Even when a "solution" is not reached, Parfit brings his attacks on the various theories with such a brilliance that makes the book a work of art.

It's not always easy to tell where the author stands on many issues, and I found myself re-reading several times some key parts in order to see the bigger picture to understand where he ways going.

The only negative remark is that in quite a few cases Parfit makes forward references to subsequent chapters "to save words" as he says, and I didn't find that to be very reader friendly. But I'm sure he had his good reasons, and that it was difficult to do otherwise without duplicating the arguments.

The questions are complex, and we are often invited to test our deepest moral intuitions and to follow intricate thought experiments, but I found the book to be extremely rewarding.

Make sure you read the appendixes.
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