Self and Self-Interest
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One of the main themes of Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons is the intimate interconnection between questions of personal identity and questions of practical reason. Identity theorists have paid much attention to Part III of the book, where he offers his theory of personal identity and draws implications for the rationality of self-interest, but much less to Part II, where he argues directly against the rationality of self-interest, with strong implications for personal identity. In Part II Parfit argues that the self-interest theory (S) cannot survive attack on two fronts: from present-aim theories on the one side and morality on the other. In this paper I defend S from Parfit’s attack and draw the implications of this defence for theories of personal identity. I argue that the version of S that Parfit attacks is not the only possible version, and offer an alternative, S*. I show further that Parfit’s version of S is closely linked to the punctual theory of personal identity he offers in Part III. S*, on the other hand, supports and is supported by a narrative conception of identity. Parfit’s arguments against S thus stand or fall with his ability to defend his picture of personal identity. By providing a plausible set of alternatives, this paper shows that neither Parfit’s view of self-interest nor his view of identity is as inevitable as he claims.
Key Wordsnarrative personal identity practical reason prudence self self-interest
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