Philosopher Derek Parfit was known for many things, though chiefly for his work on identity which is of great interest to medical ethicists. How is that one can say one is the same thing over time? And how does this bear on notions of harm to persons that might have existed but do not, as such, a topic often raised in discussions of reproductive technologies? What does Alzheimer’s mean for personal identity? And given that we change over time, should our past selves be able to speak for future selves via advance directives? In the event of brain death, are we truly deceased? And can a wrong ever be done to us after we are dead?
The philosophy blog Daily Nous had a nice overview of his work in general, but I want to bring IJFAB Blog readers’ attention in particular to Parfit’s contributions to the bioethical community. For more on how Parfit’s work has been put to use in our field, see the following sources which are by no means exhaustive.
- Parfit, “Rights, Interests, and Possible People” in Bioethics: An Anthology eds Kuse, Schuklenk, and Singer.
- Brock. “The Non-Identity Problem and Genetic Harms–The Case of Wrongful Handicaps.” Bioethics.
- Blumenthal-Barby, “Head Transplants, Personal Identity, and Derek Parfit“, Bioethics.net
- DeGrazia, “Parfit’s Innovations” in Human Identity and Bioethics (pp15-22)
- Kuczewski, “Whose Will Is It, Anyway? A discussion of advance directives, personal identity, and consensus in medical ethics.” Bioethics.
And finally, I leave you with Parfit’s own words when contemplating his inevitable, eventual demise:
My death will break the more direct relations between my present experiences and future experiences, but it will not break various other relations. This is all there is to the fact that there will be no one living who will be me. Now that I have seen this, my death seems to me less bad.
Leave your own reflections, below, in the comments. Links to articles are particularly appreciated, but so are personal reflections on the person or his work.