Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Mark Schroeder's Review of Parfit

Another person has managed to already review the whole of On What Matters and, unlike Simon Blackburn, has managed the considerable feat of addressing a number of its intellectual claims and, although disagreeing with the book on important matters, treated it with some considerable respect. This person, whose review is an admirable example of careful prose, is Mark Schroeder

Schroeder's review is published in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews and shows some considerable acuity in addressing the difficult question as to why Parfit chose to publish such a long and difficult to engage with book as On What Matters. Schroeder presents a compelling engagement with the "convergence thesis" in normative ethics that Parts 2 and 3 of the book are concerned with where Parfit seeks to reconcile Kantian, contractualist and consequentialist views of the terrain. Importantly, Schroeder points out that the convergence theory, whilst worth attention strictly within the limits of normative ethics itself also appears to presuppose views concerning reason that not all the normative theories in question do share and so is perhaps less convincing as a form of convergence than Parfit seems to think.

Schroeder also treats Part 6 of On What Matters to some engaged comment bringing out again why the accounts of normativity involved there are regarded by Parfit as part of the same project whilst also calling into question the commitments involved in assuming them to be part of the same project as the earlier account of normative ethics. Schroeder both expresses scepticism about the all-inclusive view of the terrain Parfit has attempted in the book whilst also showing, by deft connection back to Reasons and Persons how Parfit's view of 'moral progress' is the basis of this all-inclusive view. Schroeder also treats the comparisons that have been made between On What Matters and Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics to some careful attention indicating ways in which Sidgwick's version of a convergence thesis rests, in many respects, on different argumentative ground to Parfit's. 

Unfortunately Schroeder makes little comment on the first part of On What Matters with which I have been engaged thus far in the commentary on this blog though I think implications for its treatment of reasons is pretty clear from things Schroeder does say. This review of Schroeder's is almost a model of  what it means to disagree philosophically whilst indicating respect for the thinker in question. Perhaps Simon Blackburn will read it, one can only hope!

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