What Matters in Caring: Some Reflections on Derek Parfit’s On What Matters
This essay is prompted by the recent publication of a volume of critical essays on Derek Parfit’s On What Matters, along with a third volume of On What Matters responding to those essays. Parfit and his interlocutors often end up either barely engaging with one another, or engaging on terms that are often questionable. As others have done, I question Parfit’s radical bifurcation of a merely ‘psychological’ sense of caring, of what it is for a thing or creature to matter, and a ‘purely normative reason-implying sense’ of those things. But I question it in a distinctive way, by emphasising its moral as well as its philosophical implications. I argue that what Parfit gives us with his ‘normative, reason-implying sense’ of caring and mattering is not an account of genuine moral-normative responsiveness but a morally impoverishing rationalistic distortion of it. In the last part of the essay, I briefly undertake to put my specific criticisms on a wider canvas.