- An Oxford philosopher thinks he can distill all morality into a formula. Is he right? -
The New Yorker always has interesting ideas relating to how to take in the world, and this piece is no different.
Larissa Macfaquhar explores the philosophy of Derek Parfit, who questions the human notion of identity and the continuity of that identity. Parfit is thought by many to be the most original moral philosopher in the English-speaking world. He argues that personal identity doesn't matter at all.
He explains that the 'self' isn't all-or-nothing. There is no way to determine when you are no longer yourself, or when you are fully yourself because we are in a constant state of change. For example, when a patient with severe dementia loses all memory and connection to what we define as 'themselves,' who is the person we see in front of us? It is the same brain, same body, but a completely different self.
The article delves into Parfit's life in order to explain his theories further. It is truly a mind-expanding read.
If the opening paragraph doesn't draw you in, I don't know what will:
"You are in a terrible accident. Your body is fatally injured, as are the brains of your two identical-triplet brothers. Your brain is divided into two halves, and into each brother’s body one half is successfully transplanted. After the surgery, each of the two resulting people believes himself to be you, seems to remember living your life, and has your character. (This is not as unlikely as it sounds: already, living brains have been surgically divided, resulting in two separate streams of consciousness.) What has happened? Have you died, or have you survived? And if you have survived who are you? Are you one of these people? Both? Or neither?"