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Reasons and Persons Reading Group: Virtual Meeting 2

April 26, 2023 @ 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm

The second meeting of the EA DC reading group for Reasons and Persons by Derek Parfit


Please feel free to join even if you weren’t with us for the first discussion!

Info on the reading group: EA DC will meet to read and discuss Reasons and Persons, one of the most influential texts both in mainstream ethical philosophy and in effective altruism. In my (Andy’s) opinion the book is one of the best examples of analytic philosophy writing period. While the writing and arguments are dense and sometimes difficult, the book requires no background in philosophy and the author clearly spells out the arguments without relying on the reader to be familiar with prior books. Among other things the book’s arguments cover ethical issues involving possible future people, the philosophy of personal identity and wellbeing, and arguments against ethical egoism. A lot of what developed into contemporary longtermism originated in this book.

The book is available among other places on Amazon, including used copies. I would strongly recommend not buying the audiobook. Reasons and Persons is accessible but dense and does not convert well to audio, and we will be reading it out of order which may make following along with an audiobook more difficult.

What to read before Meeting #2 (page numbers refer to the 1987 paperback edition)

Chapters 14-19 – pages 307-441 – We’ll conclude Part 3 on personal identity and aim to also complete Part 4 on future generations. This section is wild and exciting for a few reasons. It has a ton of memorable and challenging thought experiments, counter-intuitive but difficult-to-argue-against conclusions on big ethical problems (the Repugnant Conclusion is the most famous of these), and is where a lot of EA thinking about longtermism started.

The arguments in Part 4 build off the arguments in Part 3, so we strongly recommend that you complete that section before starting Part 4!

For the discussion itself we’ll break down the reading together, answer any questions and offer any clarifications, and discuss and debate the many ideas presented. Disagreement is encouraged! There are a lot of contentious ideas in the book and you may find yourself disagreeing with the book’s whole approach to ethics.

Reach out to me to talk if you’re having any trouble with the reading

Reasons and Persons can be a challenging read! If you’re finding that there are sections of the book or ideas that are giving you trouble please feel free to email me at Andy@EffectiveAltruismDC.org or schedule a Zoom meeting using my Calendly. Please don’t hesitate to reach out, talking about this stuff is always extremely fun for me.


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