Sunset Kate Vredevoogd/Getty Images

A Life that Mattered

Derek Parfit, one of the greatest philosophers of his generation, died on the first day of this year. At a time when many people are despairing about current political trends, Parfit's writings can encourage us to take a longer and more optimistic perspective.

PRINCETON – On January 1, Derek Parfit, one of the greatest philosophers of my generation, died. Just a year earlier, in a poll on a leading philosophy website, Parfit had been voted the most important living Anglophone philosopher.

Of all the philosophers I have known since I began to study the subject more than 50 years ago, Parfit was the closest to a genius. Getting into a philosophical argument with him was like playing chess with a grandmaster: he had already thought of every response I could make to his arguments, considered several possible replies, and knew the objections to each reply as well as the best counters to those objections.

Parfit was not a household name. Few people outside the world of academic philosophy have read anything he wrote. Nor did he appear on television, although late in life, he spoke about effective altruism, and two of those talks can be seen online.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To access our archive, please log in or register now and read two articles from our archive every month for free. For unlimited access to our archive, as well as to the unrivaled analysis of PS On Point, subscribe now.

required

By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in

http://prosyn.org/vTt2wTT;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.