Interesting discussion at Brian Leiter's blog about Simon Blackburn's review of On What Matters, by Derek Parfit. Did The Financial Times not like it because it was too technical or because it was too sarcastic and savage? I can't help but think the review is hilarious, but have no idea if it's fair.
Here's praise for the book that no philosopher would find odd (from Mike Otsuka)--
I’m not in a position to judge the soundness of Parfit’s critique of Humeanism, but I’m willing to venture a judgment on the significance of his contribution to first-order ethics: his argument that Kantians, contractualists, and consequentialists are “climbing the same mountain on different sides” is a tour de force. Even though I think this argument is ultimately unsound, I’m nevertheless struck by its synthetic power, creativity, boldness, ambition, scope, and ingenuity. This is a major contribution to moral philosophy, to which I wish Blackburn had given more careful consideration in his review.So--unsound but brilliant, interesting but wrong. Philosophers seem to be quite different, as a group, from most scientists. They are idea-lovers, perhaps even more than truth-lovers.
Speaking of tolerating falsehood, I'm always collecting examples of beliefs that are valuable and not to be discarded lightly, even if false. I have a new one, which I discovered while reading some books and essays about adoption (background for something I'm writing about the "metaphysics" of procreation). What I learned from Scott Simon, author of Baby We Were Meant for Each Other, is that adoptive parents very often have a deep sense that the adoption was meant to be. It sounds to me like this is a very helpful belief, one that helps the new parent feel like a parent of a biologically unrelated child. It would be superficial and unduly dismissive to call this belief "a crutch"--it may play a serious role in solving a serious problem. How do you get the "mine" feeling, without genetic relatedness and nine months of pregnancy?
Blackburn's review was indeed harsh ... but I love philosophy because there's nothing sacred as long as you back up your attacks with solid "facts" and "reasons". It's good to have such a debate. I've read and loved Reasons and Persons, but I'm scared to start with OWM, it will take me a awful long time to read that ...
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