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When Derek Parfit published, it mattered

He strove never to make a choice between rigour and relevance

By Julian Baggini  

Derek Parfit lecturing at Harvard in 2015 ©Anna Riedl

It is impossible to sum up in a couple of hundred words the richness, subtlety and complexity of the philosophy of Derek Parfit, who died at the age of 74 on New Year’s Day. However, it takes just two words to capture what made him worthy of the respect and attention even of those who profoundly disagreed with him: “what matters.”

This simple phrase appeared explicitly in his first masterpiece, Reasons and Persons…

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