Derek Parfit’s On What Matters is widely recognized as elegant, profound, and destined to change the landscape of moral philosophy. In Volume One, Parfit argues that the distinct—indeed, powerfully conflicting—theories of deontology and contractualism can be woven together in a way so as to yield utilitarian conclusions. Husain Sarkar in this book calls this, The Ultimate Derivation. Sarkar argues, however, that this derivation is untenable. To underwrite this conclusion, this book traverses considerable Parfitian terrain. Sarkar shows why Parfit hasn’t quite solved what Sidgwick had called "the profoundest problem in ethics"; he offers a reading of Kant, Rawls, and Scanlon that reveals Parfit’s keen utilitarian bias; and he demonstrates why Parfit’s Triple Theory does not succeed in its task of unifying conflicting moral theories (without making substantial utilitarian assumptions). The final chapter of the book is about meta-ethics. It shows that Parfit’s Convergence Principle is mistaken even though it unveils Parfit’s utterly humane concerns: Moral philosophers are not, as Parfit thinks, climbing the same mountain. But for all that, Sarkar maintains, Parfit’s book is arguably the greatest consequential tract in the history of moral philosophy.
Table of Contents
Part I. The Framework for the Ultimate Derivation
1. Sidgwick’s Dualism
2. Kant’s Ideal: The Consent Principle
3. Kant’s Ideal: The Merely as a Means Principle
Part II. The Goal: The Greatest Good
4. Wither Shall We Go?
Part III. Pathway to the Ultimate Derivation
5. The Universal Law
6. The Golden Rule and the Path to Impartiality
7. Contractualism: Rawls and Kant
8. Contractualism: Scanlon
Part IV. The Ultimate Derivation
9. The Ultimate Derivation I: The Base and the Argument
10. The Ultimate Derivation II: The Four Objections
11. The Ultimate Derivation III: The Convergence Argument
Epilogue: What Matters, Ultimately?
Husain Sarkar is Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at Louisiana State University. He is the author of A Theory of Method (1983), The Toils of Understanding: An Essay on "The Present Age" (2000), Descartes’ Cogito: Saved from the Great Shipwreck (2003), and The Problem of Group Rationality (2007). He has thrice been a recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities award. He has received LSU’s Distinguished Faculty Research Award (2001); the 2006-2007 ATLAS (Awards to Louisiana Artists and Scholars); and, the LSU 2008 Rainmaker’s Award.
"At its best, Kant and Parfit allows readers to meticulously work through Parfit's arguments alongside Sarkar, benefiting from his knowledge of the text's intricacies, gaining insights through his careful exposition and critique, and, perhaps, seeing the genius of Parfit's work through Sarkar's eyes." – Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
"Derek Parfit’s On What Matters is one of the most important works in moral philosophy to be published in years. A central part of that book is the contention that various normative ethical theories – namely Kantian deontology, rule consequentialism and Scanlonian contactualism – are far closer to each other than most philosophers suppose. In this book Husain Sarkar focuses on that central position and examines Parfit’s thought in relation to Kantian deontology, putting pressure on Parfit’s idea that one can derive consequentialist conclusions from deontological ideas. Sarkar’s book is an excellent, systematic and sustained meditation on Parfit’s thought; and from Sarkar’s own ideas one can learn a great deal about consequentialism and deontology generally. As such it will be required reading for students and scholars working on ethics and Parfit’s On What Matters." – Simon Kirchin, University of Kent, UK