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Reasons and Persons (Oxford Paperbacks) Paperback – 20 Feb 1986

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Product details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; New Ed edition (20 Feb. 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019824908X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198249085
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 2.5 x 12.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 26,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Very few works in the subject can compare with Parfit's in scope, fertility, imaginative resource, and cogency of reasoning. (P.F. Strawson, The New York Review of Books)

From the Back Cover

Reasons and persons challenges, with several powerful arguments, some of our deepest beliefs about rationality, morality, and personal identity.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
... I concentrated mainly on the 'persons' side of the book.
I first read it in 1992, while studying philosophy at university and finding the entire subject frustrating. So much philosophy in the anglo-german tradition is a game of semantics. Reasons and Persons is different - it is a well reasoned argument that can have life-changing consequences.
His discussion of personal identity - what makes a person the same person across a spatio-termporal path - was revelatory. By explaining that, frankly, we do not have a consistent identity over time the implications for ethics become explosive.
I don't want to make it sound like some drippy self-help book, it certainly isn't, but it had a profound and life-changing effect on me and my notions of justice, punishment and my own identity.
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Format: Paperback
This is a brilliant seminal work of 20th century ethics. Parfit argues in a very clear style, attempting to decide between attitudes to decision-making, mainly consequentialism, 'common-sense morality', and self-interest theory (rational egoism). He is also concerned with questions of personal identity, i.e. what (if anything) makes a person the same person over time? This in turn feeds into questions of morality and rationality, developing an intriguing and provocative position. Parfit also reflects on the question of what we owe to future generations. This is an extremly important issue and Parfit handles it well, though it is perhaps not that closely related to questions from the earlier parts. But any complaints we might have can only be mere quibbles; it is impossible to deny that Parfit discusses issues of earth-shattering importance in a tremendously insightful and stimulating way. Parfit admits that there are many questions left open at the end, but this is unsurprising: it would be too much of a miracle to expect all the problems of ethics to be solved in one go, even by an intellectual giant of Parfit's calibre. However, it does leave open the issues for all those inspired by the book (and who wouldn't be?) to put forward their own theories.
In short, if you are interested in the question of how to make decisions and what morality says you should do - which is a pretty universal issue - this book is essential reading.
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Format: Paperback
I first read the Persons part of Reasons and Persons at university, and was blown away. I am now just coming to the end of a full re-read of all four sections and have to conclude this is one of the best works of philosophy written in the past couple of hundred years.

Parfit's work is as wonderful as it is for three reasons:

1. He relentless uses logical argument to force the careful reader to accept deeply counter-intuitive conclusions about our reasons for action and the nature of personal identity over time. It's rare to be gripped by philosophy in the way that I was gripped as I read the latter half of Part Three of this book.

2. Parfit writes incredibly lucidly. Whilst the concepts in Reasons and Persons will at times tax even those with a background in philosophy, the language is admirably simple, clear and fluid. Parfit rarely uses jargon and never unnecessarily.

3. The conclusions that Parfit reaches are not esoteric, but rather have deep and immediate implications for how each of us lives our everyday life. Without wanting to be too glib, if we all accepted what Parfit argues (and we should) we'd need to throw out most economic theory, and transform our attitudes towards personal autonomy, abortion, and the ethics surrounding death.

A work of philosophy that can do each of the above three things deserves, in my mind, to rank up there with the very best.

I do have one reservation about Reasons and Persons, though. This is that Parfit uses a range of imaginary cases to argue his point. I am not a good enough philosopher to know whether there is a flaw in use of such cases, or to know what the flaw is even if there is one.
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It surprises me that no-one has yet reviewed this. Reasons and Persons is not only tremendously influential in contemporary moral philosophy, it also deserves to be. It is astonishingly thorough, sensitive and original in its treatment of a range of issues: the constitution of moral reasons, their practical status, the structure of several key normative ethical theories, and so forth. I have not read the Persons half as closely as the Reasons half, but I well imagine that it would be as instructive to personal identity theorists as the other half is to those interested in normative ethics.
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Quite simply an awesome book, rigorous and detailed on every point, and beautiful because of it. A definite challenge that any ethical theorist must defeat.
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