Thursday, 27 February 2014

A Mighty Rumble in Swedish Academia as Top Management Fight at Uppsala University Resolves

Today, the board of Uppsala University, one of Sweden's top four broad universities and its oldest – instigated in 1477 – declared full confidence for its Vice Chancelor, Eva Åkesson, after an open declaration of no confidence from 11 chaired professors, deans and vice rectors (3). This has been the "talk of the town" around Swedish academia the last few weeks.

Already, one of the three vice rector is reported to have resigned, and the Uppsala daily, Uppsala Nya Tidning, reports that all of them have handed in resignations and expressed "shock" at the decision, but at least one of the deans who signed the no confidence letter is reported to comment that he wants to continue. It remains to be seen how the rest of the signing parties will react.

The content of the conflict and crisis of confidence remains somewhat mysterious, but today's press conference delivered hints at both procedural and personal difficulties. Earlier information has referred to more substantial disagreements regarding budgetary and organisational issues as being part of the conflict as well.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

UK Plan to Sell Out NHS Medical Records Hits Another Bump: Data Prematurely Given to Insurance Industry – MP's Concerned

So, when I posted just the other day on the embarrassing setbacks and "tactical withdrawal" of the, to my eyes indefensible (my arguments have been presented here, here and here), plan of the UK national health service to start a system (called for giving access to partly identifiable patient data (in view of recent demonstrations, I would say wholly identifiable if there's some genetic data in there) not only for public research institutions, but also private companies, some with obvious vested interests to use said sort of data against individual people, I frankly thought that this would be the last we heard about this scheme for some while. Surely, I believed, the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre, which handles this whole shebang, would now be very, very sure to do everything right and not attract any attention. I was wrong.

Today, the BBC reports about a hearing by the parliamentary, cross-party Health Select Committee, where NHS bosses were confronted with allegations voiced this Monday that, in fact, confidential patient data had been handed over to private insurance industry a good while earlier, and the intention of said industry was – surprise! – actions which go against the interests of patients:

But on Monday it emerged the Information Centre - or NHS Information Centre as it used to be known - gave that hospital data, which was largely anonymous, to the insurance industry in 2012.
A report was then produced advising insurance and investment firms how it could use the information to price their products.
The Information Centre has now said this should probably not have happened as it should have applied "greater scrutiny" to the application.
"Should probably not have happened", is that the understatement of the month on the royal island, by any chance? MP's in the committee are reported to have rightfully swung Centre boss Max Jones by his ears when he was unable to provide an account of why the data had been shared in this way. MP Rose Cooper is reported to have commented afterwards: "It is amazing how many questions we've not got answers [to]." No wonder Sarah Wollaston, tory MP and herself a GP is reported to have said (with admirable restraint, to my mind): "I'm very disappointed...this threatens public confidence."

Indeed it does. Besides the interests of ordinary people who now and then needs to visit the doctor, that is. Besides the interests of people who feel a need to purchase private health insurance to have an adequate protection. Besides people who now and then needs to purchase pharmacological products for treatment (who may just as well be the targets of pricing schemes from big pharma, like the one here reported from insurance industry).

You think I'm exaggarating? Read this report in yesterday's Guardian about a just unmasked big pharma industry lobby campaign towards the Centre to have them grant quick and "easy access" to material. A memorandum of mutual understanding has been sought, it transpires. Presumably in the same good spirit of cooperation that explains the reported handing over of data to private insurance companies. I for one is only that close to do a "what did I tell you" with regard to the supposedly strict vetting for access to

The attempt of the Center's management to push the toothpaste back into the tube by promising to "look into it" and announcing that the Centre is "considering" a beefed up anonymisation procedure, does not inspire confidence. Not when we know that such anonymisation is nowadays easily circumvented in many cases, and against the background of the obvious flaw of the whole basic idea from the very start. Using patient data for research by public research institutions (after due scrutiny, permission and consent), fine. There are, as Ben Goldacre argued just a few days ago, some pretty good reasons to make use of national health service and other health registry data to such an effect, reasons in terms of benefiting lots of people without putting anyone in harms way. The present idea of granting private business interests privileged access (indeed, access at all) is, however, not justified by such reasons.

On the very contrary. And hopefully, UK national policy makers, MPs and others, are now finally starting to see the flaws of this idea of inviting greed, corruption and sloppiness where the need is for ethics, care and seriousness.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Is Human Extraterrestial Migration Banned by (Monotheistic) Religious Ethics – And Maybe Some Secular Too?

As you know, the ethical assessment and political evaluation of technological risk is one of my main areas of interest, and a focus of one of my main research publications, the book The Price of Precaution and the Ethics of Risk. In that book, I consider a number of futuristic scenarios to illustrate and test my theoretical ideas. One thing that I'm not considering, however, is the vision of human migration to other planets. But this very scenario has now become the topic of some inflamed debating between  a visionary entrepreneurial endeavour to such an effect and the opinions of highly authoritative religious scholars.

As infantile, unrealistic and uneconomic they may seem, there are actual plans for having humans migrate from Earth to other planets – Mars being one in immediate focus, for instance through the initiative Mars-One. I'm one of those who think that, while it may be prudent to actually work on such contingencies (this is one reason why I have accepted to be scientific adviser to the Lifeboat Foundation), making it the primary priority seems to me to be an immoral waste of resources in light of more pressing needs where there are no technological barriers for doing good (such as securing clean drinking water and sewerage installations for all people globally, or fixing the rules of global trade to be at least somewhat less to the disbenefit of those needing it the most). I don't, however, host any principled objection to the idea of human extraterrestial migration – to my mind it's about needs, likelihoods of success and priorities in light of what stakes are up for humanity at the moment.

Others, however, seem to take a more rigid stance. Thus, apparently, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment in the United Arab Emirates has issued a fatwa (i.e., a scholarly, allegedly authoritative interpretation of the tenets of Islam), according to which the idea of a one-way trip to Mars in the Mars-One style, would be too risky and uncertain to be allowed under the ban against recklessly endangering human life:

The committee, presided by Professor Dr Farooq Hamada, said: “Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse 4/29 of the Holy Quran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.”
Apparently, the strong wording of these learned clerics is partly motivated by the fact that...

Thousands of volunteers, including some 500 Saudis and other Arabs, have reportedly applied for the mission which costs $6 billion. The committee indicated that some may be interested in travelling to Mars for escaping punishment or standing before Almighty Allah for judgment.
 “This is an absolutely baseless and unacceptable belief because not even an atom falls outside the purview of Allah, the Creator of everything.  This has also been clearly underscored in verse 19&20/93 of the Holy Quran in which Allah says: There is no one in the heavens and earth but that he comes to the Most Merciful as a servant. (Indeed) He has enumerated them and counted them a (full) counting.”
The Mars-One initiative has chosen to respond to this assault on their project (and, I strongly suspect, on its financial viability) not primarily by ridicule or resentment, but in kind, arguing that the mission is in the genral spirit of what some famous muslim explorers have done in the past (which is not really relevant to the argument) and, more interestingly, that central parts of Islamic teaching would rather seem to condone the planned mission, and that the implied risk assessment of the GAIAE committee is flawed from an intellectual perspective:

Space Exploration, just like Earth exploration throughout history, will come with risks and rewards. We would like to respectfully inform the GAIAE about elements of the Mars One mission that reduce the risk to human life as much as possible. It may seem extremely dangerous to send humans to Mars today, but the humans will be preceded by at least eight cargo missions. Robotic unmanned vehicles will prepare the habitable settlement. Water and a breathable atmosphere will be produced inside the habitat and the settlement will be operational for two years, even before the first crew leaves Earth. Each of the cargo missions will land in a system very similar to the human landing capsule. An impressive track record of the landing technology will be established before risking human lives. It should be noted that the moon lander was never test on the Moon before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed successfully on the Moon.
If we may be so bold: the GAIAE should not analyze the risk as they perceive it today. The GAIAE should assess the potential risk for humans as if an unmanned habitable outpost is ready and waiting on Mars. Only when that outpost is established will human lives be risked in Mars One's plan. With eight successful consecutive landing and a habitable settlement waiting on Mars, will the human mission be risk-free? Of course not. Any progress requires taking risks, but in this case the reward is 'the next giant leap for mankind'. That reward is certainly worth the risks involved in this mission.
It remains to be seen what the GAIAE committee will respond. The Mars-One reasoning isn't exactly fail-safe, since it comes down to how the importance of the mission is weighed in light of the cost and what that money could have been used for instead and what those alternative activities might have implied in terms of truly valuable gain and risk to human life and limb. My own theory would probably give the Mars-One option rather low priority in such light, I dare to say without having made any more precise analysis (which, provided the wide range of uncertainty, I would doubt to be possible anyway). And I dare venture the guess that my theory is more allowing to technological adventure than any of the Abrahamitic religions.

For this is my final reflection, inspired by an aside-comment by my colleague Anders Herlitz: The reaction of the Islamic scholars of the UAE is a pretty logical one in light of the strong stance against human taking of human life, not least one's own, in the scriptures of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. As noted by the pioneer theorist of the ethics of risk, theologian Hans Jonas, this stance would seem to warrant a high degree of risk aversion as soon as such scenarios are among the options. For sure (I would say, it's more uncertain if Jonas would be prepared to follow me), taking such risks may – as Mars-One suggests – be justified, but it takes special considerations and circumstances for that to be the case. In particular, venturing on risky missions just for the hell of it, or for making money, or for "doing something different", or for feeling important, or for exapanding human boundaries, or somesuch would in fact not seem to suffice. What would seem to be necessary is the presence of some realistic threat to human life or humanity, where the activity in question would be a necessary or, at least, reasonable response of escape. At the very least, the story of the Ark of Noah would seem to suggest as much.

So, my wonder is really why the GAIAE committee is so alone in its critical response to the Mars-One initiative. Where's the other islamic leaders? Where's the Pope? Where are the Lutheran Arch Bishops or the many preachers of the free churches Where are the chief Rabbis? And, since there are also secular versions around of the stance to the importance of human life, in particular one's own – where's the penetrating analyses from the Future of Humanity Institute and the Institute of the Ethics of Emerging Technology of the Kantian and (late) Wittgensteinian positions on this matter, just to mention the most obvious ones that would seem to qualify?

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

UK Medical Records Sellout Delayed: NHS Realises It Needs to Inform People of their Rights

So, some of you may recall my rather negative comments on a UK national plan to make NHS medical records which are not even fully anonymised available to not only research universities, but also – totally unnecessary from a medical research standpoint – private industry in the pharma and insurance fields. This in spite of the fact that it takes just a few snippets of information combined with a medical sample to correctly trace the individual from whom the sample has been taken these days. Former posts are here, here and here. A very recent report in the Guardian is here.

Yesterday, the BBC reported that the plan – which unnecessarily jeopardizes the interests, integrity and liberty of masses of people, besides putting them at risk of being discriminated against for health reasons – has been delayed, since the NHS "has accepted the communications campaign, which gives people the chance to opt out, needs to be improved". That is, the "campaign" consisting of no information at all whatsoever, and which was made public only thanks to some vigilant bloggers – especially MedConfidential. The "campaign" consisting of the NHS apparently deliberately making its very best to hide from the public that they have the unconditional right to opt out of the whole scheme and how they may go about claiming that right. No wonder that the lead-heavy players in the field such as "The Royal College of GPs, the British Medical Association and patient watchdog Healthwatch England have all voiced concerns".

The plan is to devise an information campaign, which – lets hope – actually informs people about their right and gives them as easy access to the form to fill out to opt out as they facilitate the sellout of patient medical details and records. By August it will all be ready to roll-out the system, the responsible ones promise. I believe it when I see it.

Just in case they don't: here's once again the link to all you need to opt out. If I lived in the UK, I certainly would fill out and hand it in immediately! The inconsiderate hurry, carelessness and obvious money-hunger of the forces having pushed this setup into place inspire everything but confidence and trust. I'm sure there will be more to come eventually.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Legalised Euthanasia for Children Regardless of Age in Belgium: The Actual Law in English

The past few days we have heard the reports of the change made to the Belgian (permissive, but also restrictive) euthanasia law that makes it include children of all ages among those who may lawfully receive medical help to end their lives. For instance here, here, here and here. None, however, have had access to or quoted any actual English translation of the new law. Thanks to my colleague Kristof Van Assche at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel's Faculty of Law and Criminology, I'm now happy to be able provide one for interested readers, with the following disclaimer: This is Kristof's own provisional translation, based on this English version of the original law and his own added translations of the made changes. Kristof posted it in the closed Facebook group for bioethics scholars, Bioethics International, and gave me permission to share it with a wider audience in this way. Here comes screenshots from the original post just referred to:

And here, to make quotation easier, is the text in plain text:
Law of 28 May 2002 on Euthanasia, amended by the Law of 13 February 2014 – Consolidated version [changes in brackets]

Chapter II: Conditions and procedure

Section 3

§1. The physician who performs euthanasia commits no criminal offence when he/she has verified that:
- the patient is a legally competent adult, a legally competent emancipated minor, [or a minor with the capacity of discernment] and is conscious at the moment of making the request;
- the request is voluntary, well-considered and repeated, and is not the result of any external pressure;
- the adult or emancipated minor patient is in a medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated, and that results from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident;
- [the minor with the capacity of discernment is in a medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical suffering that cannot be alleviated and that will result in death in the short term, and that results from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident;]
and when he/she has respected the conditions and procedure as provided in this Act.

§2. Without prejudice to any additional conditions that the physician may wish to attach to his/her intervention, he/she must in advance and in each case:
1) inform the patient about his/her health condition and life expectancy, discuss with the patient his/her request for euthanasia and the possible therapeutic and palliative courses of action and their consequences. Together with the patient, the physician must come the belief that there is no reasonable alternative to the patient’s situation and that the patient’s request is completely voluntary;
2) be certain of the constant physical or mental suffering of the patient and of the durable nature of his/her request. To this end, the physician has several conversations with the patient spread out over a reasonable period of time, taking into account the progress of the condition of the patient;
3) consult another physician about the serious and incurable nature of the disorder and inform him/her about the reasons for this consultation. The consulted physician reviews the medical record, examines the patient and must be certain of the patient’s constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated. He/she drafts a report on his/her findings.
The consulted physician must be independent of the patient as well as of the treating physician and must be competent to give an opinion about the disorder in question. The treating physician informs the patient about the results of this consultation;
4) if there is a nursing team that has regular contact with the patient, discuss the request of the patient with the team or its members;
5) if the patient so desires, discuss the request of the patient with his/her relatives appointed by him/her;
6) ensures that the patient has had the opportunity to discuss his/her request with the persons that he/she wanted to meet;
7) [when the patient is an unemancipated minor, consult, in addition, a child psychiatrist or a psychologist, and inform him about the reasons for this consultation.
The consulted specialist takes note of the medical record, examines the patient, verifies the capacity of discernment of the minor and certifies this in writing.
The treating physician informs the patient and his or her legal representatives of the outcome of this consultation.
At a meeting with the legal representatives of the minor, the treating physician provides them with all the information specified in §2, 1° in and verifies that they agree with the request of the minor patient.]

§3. […]

§4. The request of the patient [and, if the patient is a minor, also the agreement of the legal representatives] have to be put in writing. The document is drawn up, dated and signed by the patient himself/herself. If the patient is not capable of doing this, the document is drawn up by an adult person who is designated by the patient and must not have any material interest in the death of the patient.
This person indicates that the patient is incapable of putting his/her request in writing and indicates the reasons why. In such case the request is drawn up in the presence of the physician and the said person mentions the name of the physician on the document. This document must be annexed to the medical record.
The patient may revoke his/her request at any time, in which case the document is removed from the medical record and returned to the patient.

[§4/1. After the physician has treated the request of the patient, the persons concerned are offered the possibility of psychological assistance.]

My most sincere thanks to Kristof for allowing me to share.

Friday, 14 February 2014

What is Derek Parfit to do with the Prize Money? Preliminary Explorations

As I reported yesterday, All Souls (Oxford) emeritus and moral philosophy giant Derek Parfit has been selected as the 2014 Rolf Schock Logic and Philosophy laureate and, in effect, will receive about € 68 000. After having cheered at this excellent choice for about 24 hours (this affirming him as a worthy winner), I'm now moving to the next, obviously more pressing question:

Whatever should he do with the money??

There are, to start with, three crude options – a sort of A, B, C of the philosophy of Derek Parfit, if you want – needed scrutiny to commence exploring this complex issue, which has received far too little attention since Sartre refused the Nobel Prize, before getting philosophically serious with some deeper complications. I will here preliminary probe this exciting topic, employing only some of the tools sharpened and left ready for use on the kitchen zinc by the master himself.



The three options:

The Grand Gesture
Derek refuses the money in a grand gesture of public display - e.g., as a protest against the lack of female Schock laureates, the ridiculousness of scientific prizes, or somesuch.

Well-earned Enjoyment During the Fall of Life
Derek receives the money and then spends it on having a good time for himself and his close ones after a long life of hard academic work and duty.

Making the World a Better Place
Derek receives the money and uses it for a morally good cause (better than giving them away to elderly philosophy professors, that is).

Some philosophers would doubt that any of these strategies can be justified. I claim, however:

The Parfit As the Assumed Subject – Holding Certain Positions which Will Not Change Just Because Someone or Else Doubts them – of this Blog Post Justificatory Principle Claim:
 A blog post discussing a subject related to Derek Parfit which is not literally about the issue of the possibility of justifying normative positions, can assume the Parfit stance on the possibility of justifying normative positions.

That is, that it exists. A little bit, I'm sure. In principle, at least. And being in the land of principles at the moment, this will do until I'm done (see the latter part of this post).

However, affirming (tentatively) this possibility does not imply that it is easy. On the contrary, I claim:

The Very Much Difficulty of Solving Intricate Moral Problems Related to Derek Parfit Claim

Which, I trust, explains itself (and, if you insist, can be confirmed by at least 15 years of Swedish practical philosophy students at the BA level).

Now, consider the option of The Grand Gesture. It is obvious from his writings that Parfit is enough of a consequentialist to hold this option as justified only if it leads to some sort of sufficiently good relevant effect, such as a future adjustment of the gender imbalance of the prize laureates or the refusal of the Rolf Schock Foundation to award any more prizes. However, it is equally obvious that any such effect depends on not only what Derek Parfit does, but how this is fitted in with what a large number of other agents do (and in this case, have done). Therefore:


The Possibly Endlessly Divided Possible Protest
Many people, some now, some in the past and some, yet unidentified, in the future may together act to form an effective and justified protest for the worthy cause C. However, some in the past have already failed to do their part and it is undecided how many in the future will, although we assume that it is possible for enough of the latter (whose total number is unknown) to act in a such a way as to make a choice of the presently deliberating agent Derek to participate in the possible protest into actually participating in an actual effective protest which will eventually be completed.

What should Derek do?

This is a conundrum demanding theory X, and thus we presently lack the theoretical context to properly assess The Grand Gesture and I for one will dub any attempt at doing it in the absence of X as the 6th mistake in moral mathematics.

Therefore, instead consider the option Well-earned Enjoyment During the Fall of Life. It is obvious that any worse wise-cracker than me would here begin invoking puns relating to problems of personal identity and thereby believe something of relevance to the philosophy of Derek Parfit having thus been linked to a ridiculous attempt at being funny at the expense of his obvious aging. I reject this claim. Instead, I affirm the claim that relation R is what creates trouble for the Well-earned Enjoyment During the Fall of Life. While it is patently obvious that the Derek receiving the prize is also the Derek who deserves it whatever his ages at different stages might have been, and thus the right to enjoy it – he has the same social security number as that young man winning an All Souls fellowship without having a doctorate and who eventually went on writing an influential little essay called "On doing the best for our children", doesn't he?! Duh! – so, that's obviously settled as a deepest of deep further facts. However, lacking enough of relation R – I mean, just look at that hair!....

....and no glasses as in some other and earlier pictures I have seen – this is of no help, as relation R is what matters.*

Thus pending theory Y, which would provide the missing reason for why a laureate should enjoy a prize in the absence of relation R, it is time to move on to the option Making the World a Better Place. 


(Q) Quirky as it may be to determine what is a morally good cause in the case of Derek, there actually exists one.

(P) The good cause referred to in (Q) is (as it were!) (N)**

Even if that is so, however, it may be undetermined what N is. Many would claim the opposite (and truth to be told, so would I if I had only eaten a better lunch), but I nevertheless claim that although N does exist, there is no definite N, such that Derek should choose promote that particular N with his (well-earned) prize-money. In effect, there is no reason for Derek to choose option Making the World a Better Place.

Oh, well, Nagel might object, so:


The Many Equally Important Beneficiaries of Derek's Doing Good
Depending on exactly how Derek goes about doing good with his prize money by choosing a particular version of N, different people will travel around differently, meeting different people and so on, after 5000 years resulting in a great number of different spermatozoa to exist than if Derek had made another choice of N. Perhaps all of the ova will be the same, how would I know? But the central fact we assume is this: the good of Derek's action for the world will not occur earlier than in 5000 years time. Thus completely different people will benefit and let us – when we're at it, what the heck – assume that they would all benefit the same. Some economists would question that claim. I, however, claim the opposite of that questioning, thus affirming my original claim as positively supported from a theory of rationality yet to be formulated.

In any case, the upshot is that we need theory – obviously!! – Z to be able to provide a reason for picking out any particular way of doing N in order be justified in any sort of rational support of Making the World a Better Place. We are back were we started in our Derek Parfit A, B, C:

X, Y, Z.

Ta! from Gothenburg!

*) Some readers may not remember the famous relation R from the now lost 34th edition postscript to Reasons and Persons, where the overly abstract notion of the original analysis of R had been ironed out to more concrete form; now signifying the As Ravingly Dashing Head of Hair as Ever relation.
**) If you ask yourself what (N) is, you obviously know nothing of philosophy and needs to attend university.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Derek Parfit Wins the 2014 Royal Swedish Academy of Science Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy

I'm happy to announce that this year's Rolf Schock prize in philosophy and logic has been awarded to University of Oxford All Souls College emeritus fellow Derek Parfit. The prize, which also is awarded in mathematics and the musical and visual arts is of a sizeable sum of 600 000 Swedish krona ≈ € 68 000 ≈ $ 93 000 and is one of, if not the, largest research prizes in philosophy. Former laureates include W.V.O. Quine, John Rawls, Hilary Putnam, Thomas Nagel, Saul Kripke and some other monumental names of 20th and 21th century Western academic and, let's be fair, anglophone philosophy. The list still waits to include a female receiver, I'm sorry to say.

But this takes nothing away from Derek Parfit, who has single-handedly transformed contemporary systematic moral philosophy more than anyone after John Rawls. Already his 1984 modern classic Reasons and Persons earned him the motivation of the selection committee that he receives the prize “for his ground-breaking contributions concerning personal identity, regard for future generations and analysis of the structure of moral theories”. This is a book that no even semi-serious scholar of ethics can avoid, as Parfit picks apart established ethical traditions and theories in to their bare bones, and further on into their marrow, to finally come out on the other side with a completely new research program for academic ethics scholars and moral philosophers, regarding, for instance, how to think about part-whole conflicts, personal identity and demarcation, future generations and population policy, the structure and role of theories of the good life, and the relationship between practical rationality, morality and the normativity of moral deliberation. He works in the very best of the British academic philosophical tradition, where Hume and Sidgwick are two of the most obvious influences, and has a now well-known style of writing that, as in the case of Quine, is imitated by many but mastered by only one. A few years back, he published the more synthetic and rather monumental work On What Matters, but to me R and P is what makes Parfit the giant he is, as his refusal of being content with any of the suggestions he contemplates there and the constant unfolding of new layers of paradox of human moral thought has produced fuel for philosophers to work on for, I'd say, at least a few centuries ahead.

On of Parfit's exceptional qualities is his straightforward and simple way of moving effortlessly from highly technical exercises of intricate problems into the most engaging narrative examples, broadly fleshed out to provide humanity to the philosophical issues he engages with. This excerpt from Reasons and Persons, where the theme of personal identity is introduced is a well-known example:

When I started to get serious about philosophy and together with a friend, while still studying on the undergrad level, was invited to attend the "higher seminar" of practical philosophy in Stockholm, Reasons and Persons had just come out and was the topic for a term's discussions, and it was refreshing to watch how all of the seniors around were as shaken by the radical and far-reaching challenges presented by that book as I was. A term later, I wrote my B.A. thesis on 25 pages in the beginning of the book, where Parfit defends a theory of practical rationality that allows for "intrinsically irrational desires" (such as preferring suffering on tuesdays, while otherwise disliking suffering as much as any other one). I was critical of that theory, as I have been of much other of Parfit's own philosophical claims over the years, for instance in my extensive use of his seminal analysis of the morality of creating and influencing future people taking place in part four of the book for the purpose of explicating a consequentialist theory of the morality of abortion in my Ph.D. thesis. But the great thing about Parfit, is that he is not the sort of philosopher whose value is found in him "being right" (or, as is usually the case with such specimen – wrong) – it's rather the way in which he is often able to demonstrate that most of the things we have been taken for granted as obvious or unproblematic must, in fact, be rejected and new, hitherto unknown, answers must be sought out in a project forcing us to rethink just about everything.