Derek Parfit tells me that, if the amount of evil in the world outweighed any actual or forthcoming good, as Hardy and Schopenhauer held, then he would prefer it to be the case that nothing matters. I have to admit that I don’t understand this preference.
Guy Kahane, ‘If Nothing Matters’, Noûs, forthcoming
When Hume’s reflections confronted him with the baselessness of all human reasoning and belief, he found it most fortunate that “nature herself” ensures that he would not long linger in such dark skepticism: “I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I wou’d return to these speculations, they appear so cold, so strain’d, and ridiculous, that I cannot find it in my heart to enter into them any farther.”
When Parfit’s reflections led him to a reductionist view of personal identity, he found it unfortunate that one cannot long maintain this view of the world, which removes the glass wall between oneself and others and makes one care less about one’s own death. Focusing on his arguments, one can only briefly stun one’s natural concern for one’s own future by reconceiving oneself in accordance with the reductionist view.
Our world is arranged to keep us far away from massive and severe poverty and surrounds us with affluent, civilized people for whom the poor abroad are a remote good cause alongside the spotted owl. In such a world, the thought that we are involved in a monumental crime against these people, that we must fight to stop their dying and suffering, will appear so cold, so strained, and ridiculous, that we cannot find it in our heart to reflect on it any farther. That we are naturally myopic and conformist enough to be easily reconciled to the hunger abroad may be fortunate for us, who can “recognize ourselves,” can lead worthwhile and fulfilling lives without much thought about the origins of our affluence. But it is quite unfortunate for the global poor, whose best hope may be our moral reflection.
Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms, Cambridge, 2002, p. 26
In the mid-1980s I attended a series of graduate seminars, run by Derek Parfit, on Sidgwick’s Methods of Ethics. Parfit began the first seminar by claiming that the Methods was the greatest book on ethics ever written.
Roger Crisp, ‘Sidgwick and the Boundaries of Intuitionism’, in Philip Staton-Lake (ed.), Ethical Intuitionisms: Re-Evaluations, Oxford, 2003, p. 56