Derek Parfit (1942-2017) is the most famous philosopher most people have never heard of. Widely regarded as one of the greatest moral thinkers of the past hundred years, Parfit was anything but a public intellectual. Yet his ideas have shaped the way philosophers think about things that affect us all: equality, altruism, what we owe to future generations, and even what it means to be a person. David Edmonds presents the first biography of an obsessive and eccentric genius.
In some ways, Parfit’s work was of his times, and Parfit draws out those connections, perhaps without discussing them as explicitly as a reader might like ... Parfit is written engagingly, ably balancing philosophy and biography. Readers outside the field will find Edmonds’s descriptions of Parfit’s philosophical contributions fascinating and clear.
Mr. Edmonds exhibits an impressive ability to explain complex philosophical arguments to the lay reader ... Most of this exegesis is remarkably accessible ... In this superb biography, Mr. Edmonds makes a compelling case that Parfit’s over-the-top devotion to his work produced significant and potentially influential advances in moral philosophy.
One might well wonder how such a life could serve a full-length biography, aimed at a mainstream readership ... Against the odds Edmonds has pulled it off, and few could be better suited to the task ... He writes stylishly, with a light touch. The book is packed with anecdotes that leaven the discussion of Parfit’s weighty professional output.