Saturday, November 12, 2011

Derek Parfit -- The Final Entry

After a long, tedious, explanation of what is wrong with various versions of "Subjective Theories", without really dealing with what I would call the 'real problem', nihilism, he talks about Kant. I have to say that I find actually reading the text unbearable.  So, I'm going back to the summary to see if he gives me an argument I can sink my teeth into. So, after skimming through much more tedium I  violated all canons of what is good and decent by going right to the "conclusions" section!

Sigh, and here is what I was treated to:
"everyone ought always to do whatever would make things go best."(pg. 74)   Let's read that again:
"everyone ought always to do whatever would make things go best."(pg. 74)  I need a 600 page book for this?

Here's another gem:
"When there is only one set of principles that everyone could rationally will to be universal laws, these are the only principles, we can argue, that no one could reasonably reject."(pg.74)

How ZEN.

And here is his "Triple Theory":
"An act is wrong when such acts are disallowed by the principles of that are optimific, uniquely universally willable, and not reasonably rejectable."(pg. 74)


The one thing that has come out of this is that the Kantians and the consequentialists are, when properly formulated, trying to say the same thing(see my previous post).  Ultimately, rational beings want things to go best and those who want things to go best should think things through. There are things we should desire and things we shouldn't: we should desire the things that we have reasons to desire based on what makes things go best after careful deliberation; we should reject those desires that would make them go badly.  So, this is not a desire based theory, it's not quite a purely detached, unfeeling theory either. I shouldn't make so much fun of an obviously sincere and well-read scholar, but sometimes these arguments seem a bit foolish and they end up not accomplishing what we really need: the kind of moral foundations we can use against those who would do bad stuff just because they want to.


  1. You REALLY just don't get it.

    1. I'm glad to hear it. Please explain.

    2. I'll tell you what... When I'm done with the Philosophical Investigations I will restart with Parfit. I heard that this work was very closely argued and perhaps I just didn't have the patience. Also, I'm so convinced that NO argument can succeed in demonstrating moral proposition in vacuo that perhaps I've been narrow-minded(but I don't think so). I mean, perhaps what I think is self-evident is just my own cognitive habit.

  2. Another thing. If demonstrating these moral propositions from uncontroversial axioms is not what Parfit is doing, then I don't see the point. I'll give you an example: I took a logic course that introduced a logical system called the Golden Rule Calculus(GRC) as introduced in Symbolic Logic, by Harry Gensler pg. 243. But this system, as well as the system it was based upon, ASSUMED THE VALUE OF CONSISTENCY IN MORAL ACTION, SOMETHING THAT SHOULD NOT BE ASSUMED.

  3. By the way, the last comment was not intended as a criticism of Gensler's book, which was just explicating the system. I highly recommend this text.