Title: The Inconsolation of Philosophy
Speaker: Professor Dominic Wilkinson
Date: Wednesday 27th April 2022, 2.30 – 3.30 BST
Venue: Seminar Area, Littlegate House (Zoom possible, please email Miriam.firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange)
Booking: not required, this internal talk is for Oxford Uehiro Centre members and associates.
Abstract: The contemporary philosopher, Derek Parfit, in his book ‘Reasons and Persons’, proposed some radical changes in the way that we should think about both identity and time. He articulated a view of personal identity which diminishes a strong sense of self, and decreases the boundaries between the self and others. Furthermore, he suggested that we should try to reduce our bias towards the future, and adopt a more ‘timeless’ attitude to the past. He suggested that these changes in perspective had reduced his own fear of dying and helped him to deal with the death of others. He also tried, on occasion, to help others with these insights.
In this paper, I will explore the application of Parfit’s philosophy to consolation in the face of death and bereavement. I first outline the relevant elements of his work and how he felt that they could be applied to the problem of mortality. I will then explore some of the philosophical and empirical challenges to Parfit’s consolation. Although I focus on Parfit, these challenges are potentially shared with other rational secular philosophical approaches.
In the final section of the paper, I will propose some alternative ways of offering philosophical consolation that might nevertheless be compatible with a rational understanding of time and the self.
Dominic Wilkinson is Director of Medical Ethics and Professor of Medical Ethics at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford. He is a consultant in newborn intensive care at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. He also holds a health practitioner research fellowship with the Wellcome Trust and is a senior research fellow at Jesus College Oxford.