Gulrajas Classical, Early, and Medieval Prose and Writers: Excellent book, thoroguly enjoyed reading it; really made be think and be more interested in philosophy, Read full review. Science Logic and Mathematics. God, Locke, and Equality: Javad Heidari rated it it was amazing Sep 10, Nagel tries to find a way to support the idea that equality and impartiality can build the society of the future. These ideas are applied to specific problems such as social and economic inequality, toleration, international justice, and the public support of culture.

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Overview[ edit ] Nagel began to publish philosophy at the age of twenty-two; his career now spans over fifty years of publication. Nagel thinks that each person, owing to his or her capacity to reason, instinctively seeks a unified world view.

However, if this aspiration leads one to believe that there is only one way to understand our intellectual commitments, whether about the external world, knowledge, or what our practical and moral reasons ought to be, this leads one into error.

For contingent, limited and finite creatures, no such unified world view is possible. That is because ways of understanding are not always better when they are more objective. Like the British philosopher Bernard Williams , Nagel believes that the rise of modern science has permanently changed how people think of the world and our place in it.

A modern scientific understanding is one way of thinking about the world and our place in it that is more objective than the common sense view it replaces. It is more objective because it is less dependent on our peculiarities as the kinds of thinkers that people are.

Our modern scientific understanding involves the mathematicized understanding of the world represented by modern physics. Understanding this bleached out view of the world draws on our capacities as purely rational thinkers and fails to account for the specific nature of our perceptual sensibility. Nagel repeatedly returns to the distinction between "primary" and "secondary" qualities, that is, between primary qualities of objects like mass and shape, that are mathematically and structurally describable independent of our sensory apparatuses, and secondary qualities like taste and color, which depend on our sensory apparatuses.

Despite what may seem like skepticism about the objective claims of science, Nagel does not dispute that science describes the world that exists independently of us. His contention, rather, is that a given way of understanding a subject matter should not be regarded as better simply for being more objective.

As such, objective science is fundamentally unable to help people fully understand themselves. Nagel argues that some phenomena are not best grasped from a more objective perspective. It would, of its nature, leave out what it is to be a thinker, and that, Nagel believes, would be a falsely objectifying view. Being a thinker is to have a subjective perspective on the world; if one abstracts away from this perspective one leaves out what he sought to explain.

Nagel thinks that philosophers — over-impressed by the paradigm of the kind of objective understanding represented by modern science — tend to produce theories of the mind that are falsely objectifying in precisely this kind of way. They are right to be impressed — modern science really is objective — but are wrong to take modern science to be the only paradigm of objectivity. The kind of understanding that science represents does not transfer to everything that people would like to understand.

As a philosophical rationalist , Nagel believes that a proper understanding of the place of mental properties in nature will involve a revolution in our understanding of both the physical and the mental, and that this is a reasonable prospect that people can anticipate in the near future. A plausible science of the mind will give an account of the stuff that underpins mental and physical properties in such a way that people will simply be able to see that it necessitates both of these aspects.

Now, it seems to people that the mental and the physical are irreducibly distinct but that is not a metaphysical insight, or an acknowledgment of an irreducible explanatory gap, but simply where people are at their present stage of understanding. Nagel accuses Wittgenstein and American philosopher of mind and language Donald Davidson of philosophical idealism. This, for Nagel, elevates contingent conditions of our make-up into criteria for that which is real.

Nagel claims this is no better than more orthodox forms of idealism in which reality is claimed to be made up of mental items or claimed to be constitutively dependent on a form supplied by the mind.

Nagel is probably most widely known within the field of philosophy of mind as an advocate of the idea that consciousness and subjective experience cannot, at least with the contemporary understanding of physicalism , be satisfactorily explained using the current concepts of physics.

This position was primarily discussed by Nagel in one of his most famous articles: "What is it Like to Be a Bat? In "What is it Like to Be a Bat? He states that "an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism—something it is like for the organism. On that understanding, Nagel is a conventional dualist about the physical and the mental.

This is, however, a misunderstanding[ according to whom? Part of the puzzlement here is because of the limitations of imagination: influenced by his Princeton colleague, Saul Kripke , Nagel believes that any type identity statement that identified a physical state type with a mental state type would be, if true, necessarily true.

A parallel argument does not hold for genuine theoretical identities. This argument that there will always be an explanatory gap between an identification of a state in mental and physical terms is compounded, Nagel argues, by the fact that imagination operates in two distinct ways.

When asked to imagine sensorily, one imagines C-fibres being stimulated; if asked to imagine sympathetically, one puts oneself in a conscious state resembling pain. These two ways of imagining the two terms of the identity statement are so different that there will always seem to be an explanatory gap, whether or not this is the case.

Some philosophers of mind[ who? Nagel is not a physicalist because he does not believe that an internal understanding of mental concepts shows them to have the kind of hidden essence that underpins a scientific identity in, say, chemistry. But his skepticism is about current physics: he envisages in his most recent work that people may be close to a scientific breakthrough in identifying an underlying essence that is neither physical as people currently think of the physical , nor functional , nor mental, but such that it necessitates all three of these ways in which the mind "appears" to us.

The difference between the kind of explanation he rejects and those that he accepts depends on his understanding of transparency : from his earliest paper to his most recent Nagel has always insisted that a prior context is required to make identity statements plausible, intelligible and transparent. Natural selection and consciousness[ edit ] Further information: Mind and Cosmos In his book Mind and Cosmos, Nagel argues against a materialist view of the emergence of life and consciousness, writing that the standard neo-Darwinian view flies in the face of common sense.

Supervised by John Rawls , Nagel has been a long-standing proponent of a Kantian and rationalist approach to moral philosophy. His distinctive ideas were first presented in the short monograph The Possibility of Altruism, published in That book seeks by reflection on the nature of practical reasoning to uncover the formal principles that underlie reason in practice and the related general beliefs about the self that are necessary for those principles to be truly applicable to us.

Nagel defends motivated desire theory about the motivation of moral action. According to motivated desire theory, when a person is motivated to moral action it is indeed true that such actions are motivated — like all intentional actions — by a belief and a desire. But it is important to get the justificatory relations right: when a person accepts a moral judgment he or she is necessarily motivated to act.

But it is the reason that does the justificatory work of justifying both the action and the desire. Nagel contrasts this view with a rival view which believes that a moral agent can only accept that he or she has a reason to act if the desire to carry out the action has an independent justification. An account based on presupposing sympathy would be of this kind. The denial of this view of prudence, Nagel argues, means that one does not really believe that one is one and the same person through time.

One is dissolving oneself into distinct person-stages. Genuine reasons are reasons for anyone. That means, practically, that a timeless and intrinsic value generates reasons for anyone. A person who denies the truth of this claim is committed, as in the case of a similar mistake about prudence, to a false view of him or herself. Once again, a false view of what is involved in reasoning properly is refuted by showing that it leads to a false view of the nature of people.

In later discussions, Nagel treats his former view as an incomplete attempt to convey the fact that there are distinct classes of reasons and values, and speaks instead of "agent-relative" and "agent-neutral" reasons. In the case of agent-relative reasons the successor to subjective reasons specifying the content of the reason makes essential reference back to the agent for whom it is a reason.

An example of this might be: "Anyone has a reason to honor his or her parents. An example of this might be: "Anyone has a reason to promote the good of parenthood. Those reasons and values that withstand detached critical scrutiny are objective, but more subjective reasons and values can nevertheless be objectively tolerated.

World agent views[ edit ] This is similar to "world agent" consequentialist views in which one takes up the standpoint of a collective subject whose reasons are those of everyone. But Nagel remains an individualist who believes in the separateness of persons so his task is to explain why this objective viewpoint does not swallow up the individual standpoint of each of us.

He provides an extended rationale for the importance to people of their personal point of view. The objective standpoint and its demands have to be balanced with the subjective personal point of view of each person and its demands. One can always be maximally objective but one does not have to be.

One can legitimately "cap" the demands placed on him by the objective reasons of others. In addition, in his later work, Nagel finds a rationale for so-called deontic constraints in a way Scheffler could not.

Political philosophy[ edit ] The extent to which one can lead a good life as an individual while respecting the demands of others leads inevitably to political philosophy. He recommends a gradual move to much more demanding conceptions of equality, motivated by the special nature of political responsibility. Normally people draw a distinction between that which people do and that which people fail to bring about. But this thesis, true of individuals, does not apply to the state, which is a collective agent.

A Rawlsian state permits intolerable inequalities and people need to develop a more ambitious view of equality to do justice to the demands of the objective recognition of the reasons of others.

For Nagel, honoring the objective point of view demands nothing less. Atheism[ edit ] In his work Mind and Cosmos, Nagel notes that he is an atheist , writing, "I lack the sensus divinitatis that enables—indeed compels—so many people to see in the world the expression of divine purpose as naturally as they see in a smiling face the expression of human feeling. But what remains when these are set aside is not merely neutral: it is emphatically positive The additional positive weight is supplied by experience itself, rather than by any of its consequences.


Thomas Nagel



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