Human beings have the unique ability to view the world in a detached way: We can think about the world in terms that transcend our own experience or interest, and consider the world from a vantage point that is, in Nagel's words, "nowhere in particular". At the same time, each of us is a particular person in a particular place, each with his own "personal" view of the world, a view that we can recognize as just one aspect of the (...) whole. How do we reconcile these two standpoints--intellectually, morally, and practically? To what extent are they irreconcilable and to what extent can they be integrated? Thomas Nagel's ambitious and lively book tackles this fundamental issue, arguing that our divided nature is the root of a whole range of philosophical problems, touching, as it does, every aspect of human life. He deals with its manifestations in such fields of philosophy as: the mind-body problem, personal identity, knowledge and skepticism, thought and reality, free will, ethics, the relation between moral and other values, the meaning of life, and death. Excessive objectification has been a malady of recent analytic philosophy, claims Nagel, it has led to implausible forms of reductionism in the philosophy of mind and elsewhere. The solution is not to inhibit the objectifying impulse, but to insist that it learn to live alongside the internal perspectives that cannot be either discarded or objectified. Reconciliation between the two standpoints, in the end, is not always possible. (shrink)
Death.--The absurd.--Moral luck.--Sexual perversion.--War and massacre.--Ruthlessness in public life.--The policy of preference.--Equality.--The fragmentation of value.--Ethics without biology.--Brain bisection and the unity of consciousness.--What is it like to be a bat?--Panpsychism.--Subjective and objective.
We do not live in a just world. This may be the least controversial claim one could make in political theory. But it is much less clear what, if anything, justice on a world scale might mean, or what the hope for justice should lead us to want in the domain of international or global institutions, and in the policies of states that are in a position to affect the world order. By comparison with the perplexing and undeveloped state of (...) this subject, domestic political theory is very well understood, with multiple highly developed theories offering alternative solutions to well-defined problems. By contrast, concepts and theories of global justice are in the early stages of formation, and it is not clear what the main questions are, let alone the main possible answers. I believe that the need for workable ideas about the global or international case presents political theory with its most important current task, and even perhaps with the opportunity to make a practical contribution in the long run, though perhaps only the very long run. (shrink)
Just as there are rational requirements on thought, there are rational requirements on action. This book defends a conception of ethics, and a related conception of human nature, according to which altruism is included among the basic rational requirements on desire and action. Altruism itself depends on the recognition of the reality of other persons, and on the equivalent capacity to regard oneself as merely one individual among many.
The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist vision of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And (...) the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such.Nagel's skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. In Mind and Cosmos, he does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form theological rather than mechanic.In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility. (shrink)
This collection of essays, based on the Locke Lectures that Nagel delivered at Oxford University in 1990, addresses the conflict between the claims of the group and those of the individual. Nagel attempts to clarify the nature of the conflict - one of the most fundamental problems in moral and political theory - and concludes that its reconciliation is the essential task of any legitimate political system.
Thomas Nagel's Mortal Questions explores some fundamental issues concerning the meaning, nature and value of human life. Questions about our attitudes to death, sexual behaviour, social inequality, war and political power are shown to lead to more obviously philosophical problems about personal identity, consciousness, freedom and value. This original and illuminating book aims at a form of understanding that is both theoretical and personal in its lively engagement with what are literally issues of life and death.
In this important new book Nagel, one of the most distinguished philosophers writing in English today, presents a sustained defence of reason against the attacks of subjectivism. He offers systematic rebuttals of relativistic claims with respect to language, logic, science, and ethics.
Like all of Nagel's work, this is a book with a message: an apparently clear, simple message, forcefully presented and repeated. The message is that there is a limit to the extent to which we can "get outside" fundamental forms of thought, including logical, mathematical, scientific, and ethical thought. "Getting outside" means taking up a biological or psychological or sociological or economic or political view of ourselves as thinkers. It also inclines many people to talk of the contingency or subjectivity (...) or arbitrariness or "relativity" of our thoughts. Nagel believes that the standpoint is impossible, and the relativism it is apt to engender is self-refuting: "we cannot criticize some of our own claims of reason without employing reason at some point to formulate and support those criticisms". The general message is that first-order thoughts, the elementary certainties of mathematics, logic, science, and ethics, "dominate" any attempt to displace them. The book ends with the peroration: "Even if we distance ourselves from some of our thoughts and impulses, and regard them from outside, the process of trying to place ourselves in the world leads eventually to thoughts that we cannot think of as merely `ours'. If we think at all, we must think of ourselves, individually and collectively, as submitting to the order of reasons rather than creating it.". (shrink)
There has been considerable optimism recently, among philosophers and neuroscientists, concerning the prospect for major discoveries about the neurophysiological basis of mind. The support for this optimism has been extremely abstract and general. I wish to present some grounds ..
Everyone knows that something has gone wrong, in the United States, with the conventions of privacy. Along with a vastly increased tolerance for variation in sexual life we have seen a sharp increase in prurient and censorious attention to the sexual lives of public figures and famous persons, past and present. The culture seems to be growing more tolerant and more intolerant at the same time, though perhaps different parts of it are involved in the two movements.
Intuitions based on the first-person perspective can easily mislead us about what is and is not conceivable.1 This point is usually made in support of familiar reductionist positions on the mind-body problem, but I believe it can be detached from that approach. It seems to me that the powerful appearance of contingency in the relation between the functioning of the physical organism and the conscious mind -- an appearance that depends directly or indirectly on the first- person perspective -- must (...) be an illusion. But the denial of this contingency should not take the form of a reductionist account of consciousness of the usual type, whereby the logical gap between the mental and the physical is closed by conceptual analysis -- in effect, by analyzing the mental in terms of the physical. (shrink)
From the apathetic reaction to atrocities committed in Vietnam by the United States and its allies, one may conclude that moral restrictions on the conduct of war command almost as little sympathy among the general public as they do among those charged with the formation of U.S. military policy. Even when restrictions on the conduct of warfare are defended, it is usually on legal grounds alone: their moral basis is often poorly understood. I wish to argue that certain restrictions are (...) neither arbitrary nor merely conventional, and that their validity does not depend simply on their usefulness. There is, in other words, a moral basis for the rules of war, even though the conventions now officially in force are far from giving it perfect expression. (shrink)
Thomas Nagel is widely recognized as one of the top American philosophers working today. Reflecting the diversity of his many philosophical preoccupations, this volume is a collection of his most recent critical essays and reviews.
i The 2005 decision by Judge John E. Jones in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District was celebrated by all red-blooded American liberals as a victory over the forces of darkness. The result was probably inevitable, in view of the reckless expression by some members of the Dover School Board of their desire to put religion into the classroom, and the clumsiness of their prescribed statement in trying to dissimulate that aim.1 But the conﬂicts aired in this trial—over the status (...) of evolutionary theory, the arguments for intelligent design, and the nature of science—reveal an intellectually unhealthy situation. The political urge to defend science education against the threats of religious orthodoxy, understandable though it is, has resulted in a counterorthodoxy, supported by bad arguments, and a tendency to overstate the legitimate scientiﬁc claims of evolutionary theory. Skeptics about the theory are seen as so dangerous, and so disreputably motivated, that they must be denied any shred of.. (shrink)
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Las intuiciones basadas en la perspectivade la primera persona fácilmente nospueden inducir a error sobre lo que es yno es concebible. Este punto usualmentese presenta como apoyo de posicionesreduccionistas comunes sobre el problemamente-cuerpo, pero considero que se puedeseparar de tal perspectiva. Me pareceque la fuerte apariencia de contingenciaen la relación entre el funcionamiento delorganismo físico y la mente consciente–una apariencia que depende directa oindirectamente de la perspectiva de laprimera persona– tiene que ser una ilusión.Enotraspalabras,creoquehayunaconexiónnecesariaenambasdireccionesentre lo físico y lo mental, pero (...) que nopuede descubrirse a priori. La opinión sedivide fuertemente entre la credibilidad dealgún tipo de reduccionismo funcionalista,y no examinaré mis razones para ubicarmeen el lado antireduccionista de este debate.Mi lectura del asunto es que nuestra faltade habilidad para obtener una concepcióninteligible de la relación mente-cuerpo esun signo de la inadecuación de nuestrosconceptos actuales, y que se requiere algúngrado de desarrollo.The Intuitions based on the first-personperspective can easily mislead us aboutwhat is and is not conceivable. This pointis usually made in support of familiarreductionist positions on the mind-bodyproblem, but I believe it can be detachedfrom that approach. It seems to me thatthe powerful appearance of contingency inthe relation between the functioning of thephysical organism and the conscious mind–an appearance that depends directly orindirectly on the first person– perspectivemust be an illusion. In other words, I believethatthereisanecessaryconnectioninbothdirectionsbetweenthephysicalandthemental,butthatitcannot bediscovereda priori. Opinion is strongly divided on thecredibility of some kind of functionalistreductionism, and I won’t go through myreasons for being on the antireductionistside of that debate.My reading of the situation is that ourinability to come up with an intelligibleconception of the relation between mindand body is a sign of the inadequacy of ourpresent concepts, and that some developmentis needed. (shrink)
I. The Mind-Body Problem after Kripke This essay will explore an approach to the mind-body problem that is distinct both from dualism and from the sort of conceptual reduction of the mental to the physical that proceeds via causal behaviorist or functionalist analysis of mental concepts. The essential element of the approach is that it takes the subjective phenomenological features of conscious experience to be perfectly real and not reducible to anything else--but nevertheless holds that their systematic relations to neurophysiology (...) are not contingent but necessary. (shrink)