Friday, January 10, 2020

Parfit's Cat

My favourite story from Simon Beard's Parfit Bio:
"Like my cat, I often simply do what I want to do." This was the opening sentence of Derek Parfit's philosophical masterpiece, Reasons and Persons. He believed that it was the best way to begin his book because it showed something important about people. Often we are not as special as we think we are. For instance, when people simply do what they want to do they appear to be utilizing no ability that only people have. On the other hand, when we respond to reasons, we are doing something uniquely human, because only people can act in this way. Cats are notorious for doing what they want to do, and the sense of proximity between a cat and its owner pleasingly heightens our sense of their similarity. Hence, there could be no better way for this book to begin. 
However, there was a problem. Derek did not, in fact, own a cat. Nor did he wish to become a cat owner, as he would rather spend his time taking photographs and doing philosophy. On the other hand, the sentence would clearly be better if it was true. To resolve this problem Derek drew up a legal agreement with his sister, who did own a cat, to the effect that he would take legal possession of the cat while she would continue living with it.

1 comment:

  1. Another great passage: "Gradually a legend built up around him. ‘Derek only eats meals he can consume with one hand so he can read and eat at the same time'. ‘Derek drinks instant coffee made with hot water from the tap, so he doesn't have to wait for the kettle to boil'. ‘Derek always wears the same clothes, even in the St Petersburg winter, to spare him from having to think about what to put on in the morning'. Unusually for such legends, this was all completely true."

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