Derek Parfit takes the central principle of his discussions of personal identity to be “reductionism”: that our existence and persistence are not basic facts, but consist in something else. A number of striking claims, including the famous unimportance of identity, are supposed to follow from it. But they don’t follow. The main principle in Parfit’s arguments is something far more contentious that is never mentioned: a capacious ontology of material things. But the capacious ontology makes trouble for Parfit: it weakens his claim about the unimportance of identity and undermines his arguments for the stronger claim he intended.
Derek Parfit’s discussions of personal identity have been enormously influential. His most celebrated claim is that our numerical identity over time has no importance in itself: a future person’s being me rather than someone else is no reason for me to have any special concern for him.
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