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Could not agree more. As admirable as Parfit or McMahan's dedication may be, it is not sustainable for the sort of creatures we are and, I would venture to add, not objectively desirable. To Parfit's credit, though, he enjoys talking about mountains (real ones) and music, and McMahan is a very serious tea amateur.

Anyway, as a dad, a husband, and someone deeply dedicated to running with no professional or philosophical afterthought, I've experienced balance as essential to a flourishing life, both personally and academically. Maybe I'd be more successful if I spent less time running or idling with my family on the weekends, but I won't trade them off for academic pursuits. In fact, my academic pursuits largely benefit from balancing my projects and finding respite from work.

UK reader

I know it's a cliche, but I often have my best philosophical ideas when walking/running/playing sport/playing guitar. I don't understand how Parfit and McMahan did/do it. I wouldn't produce good work if I spent virtually all my time working.

Marcus Arvan

UK reader: I agree.

I'm also not sure that philosophical theorizing--particularly moral or political theorizing--is best served by sequestering oneself in one's work in this kind of way.

I think it plausibly results in overly cold, abstract, overly impartial moral views that seem frankly a bit "inhuman." see e.g. Mill, Kant, and yes, Parfit's "optimizing" view of morality, all of which aim to reduce morality to a simple formula (something far out of line, I think, with everyday moral experience with real, flesh-and-blood human beings!).


Janet Radcliffe Richards has done some interviews on what it was like being married to Parfit. Let's just say it wasn't your ordinary marriage.


Yes, and what worries me is many people seem to admire that lifestyle more than that of those who have pretty ordinary lives. People can do whatever they want with their lives, but please, this is not a model to emulate.


I just have one point to make, and some may think it an exaggeration, but I sure as heck don't: There is always time to read literature. And if you were someone who loved reading literature long before you loved reading philosophy, and you have since given that hobby up, then I suggest you get back on that horse. Trust me, it'll be refreshing to remember what good writing looks like.


I can't read literature, because it is like crack or video games to me! If I start a book I have to finish it, and then can't do anything else. So maybe I read a book once a year, if that.

Trevor Hedberg

@SM -- The main reason I wasn't reading much literature wasn't really a time issue. The problem was that I would spend long work days reading and writing philosophy, and doing either of those things in my free time felt too much like work. This changed significantly when I wasn't doing coursework anymore and so was not required to read 200-300 pages of philosophy every week. (Strictly speaking, you can just skip assigned readings from time to time, but that wasn't a habit I wanted to develop.)

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