Derek Parfit (1942-2017)

Leaureate Derek Parfit

Derek Parfit.

It is with great sadness to learn today that one of my all-time favourite philosophers has died overnight, in the beginning of this year. He was an odd character, certainly, but had a fantastic mind for philosophy and went out of his comfort zone to push his field forward. He was for this reason also, in my opinion, a great academic example of collegiality, transparency, and engagement in the social and public life of academia; despite his reclusive nature he engaged readily and frequently with the media and fellow researchers in order to get at and share the ‘truth’.
 
In true Parfit style, in the closing paragraphs of his third volume of On What Matters (being published next month by OUP), he wrote: “I regret that, in a book called On What Matters, I have said so little about what matters. I hope to say more in what would be my Volume Four.”
 
Sadly we may never read volume four. However, in what Peter Singer kindly shared, we may read Parfit’s final, fitting printed words before Feb:
 
“What now matters most is how we respond to various risks to the survival of humanity. We are creating some of these risks, and discovering how we could respond to these and other risks. If we reduce these risks, and humanity survives the next few centuries, our descendants or successors could end these risks by spreading through this galaxy.
 
Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine. In Nietzsche’s words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea.
 
If we are the only rational beings in the Universe, as some recent evidence suggests, it matters even more whether we shall have descendants or successors during the billions of years in which that would be possible. Some of our successors might live lives and create worlds that, though failing to justify past suffering, would give us all, including some of those who have suffered, reasons to be glad that the Universe exists.”
 
Rest well, mighty mind.