What is a Philosopher?

Derik Parfit, British philosopher

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He was born in Chengdu, western China, where his parents, Jessie (nee Browne) and Norman Parfit practised preventive medicine in Christian missionary hospitals. The family moved to Oxford a year after Derek’s birth.

At the age of seven, he wanted to be a monk, and prayed fervently that his parents, who had by then lost their faith, should return to it. However, perturbed by the problem of evil, he lost his own faith at the age of eight, and turned to poetry-writing.

Derik Parfit was to become a celebrated British philosopher. He hated to waste time and ordered identical meals and owned identical outfits.

He reframed the agenda in moral philosophy, helped to replace the ideal of equality with the principle of prioritising the worst-off, and established a new philosophical discipline, population ethics.

He wrote only two books, Reasons and Persons (1984) and the hefty On What Matters (2011, but their originality, brilliance and provocativeness not only inspired philosophers all over the world, but also influenced discussion of practical and political strategies in tackling poverty, inequality, welfare economics, ageing and global warming.

[Bits and pieces from an obituary in The Guardian, 12 Jan. 2017.]

Not exactly a Thoreau type, but . . .

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