Thomas Nagel

Thomas Nagel

Alan Thomas
Copyright Date: 2009
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    Thomas Nagel
    Book Description:

    Thomas Nagel's contribution to philosophy over the past forty years has been enormously influential. In the first sustained examination of Nagel's ideas, Alan Thomas provides readers with a detailed exploration of the central dichotomy around which Nagel organizes his philosophy: the concern over how to reconcile "subjective" and "objective" views of the world. Thomas begins by clarifying and defending Nagel's basic metaphysical contrast between subjective and objective ways of thinking about the world. He shows how a proper understanding of radically perspectival views of the world allows one to defend some of Nagel's most important claims about the mind, tracing his influential work in the philosophy of mind from his early paper on physicalism to his recent defence of a form of dual aspect theory. Thomas then turns to ethics, where Nagel's influence is pre-eminent, following the development of his views from his contrast between subjective and objective reasons in his early work to his later hybrid ethical theory. The volume concludes with an examination of Nagel's political philosophy, particularly his recent controversial work on global justice.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9492-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Chapter 1 Subjective and objective
    (pp. 1-30)

    This chapter will begin to characterize the central dichotomy that gives Thomas Nagel’s work its unified character, namely, the dichotomy of the subjective versus the objective. It will describe Nagel’s conception of the aims of philosophy, introduce some concepts necessary to understand the idea of a representation from a point of view, explain the idea of the radically perspectival and discuss whether Nagel is committed to the controversial idea of a perspectival fact. This material will provide the framework for the discussions in the remainder of this book.

    What is the point of philosophizing? Nagel’s view is that the point...

  6. Chapter 2 Understanding, knowledge and reason
    (pp. 31-60)

    This chapter discusses four interrelated topics. I shall first characterize Nagel’s distinctive treatment of the issue of realism in more depth. As Chapter 1 established, Nagel believes that scientific understanding is capable of supplying that which Williams called an “absolute conception” of the world, namely, a conception of the world that is maximally independent of our distinctively human perspective (VN: 15; B. Williams 1978: 64–8). In the first section, “Cartesian absoluteness”, I shall describe this view in order to establish how Nagel positions himself between two kinds of critic: those who undervalue objectivity and those who overvalue it (VN:...

  7. Chapter 3 Placing the mind in the physical world
    (pp. 61-106)

    The two areas in philosophy where Nagel has had the deepest impact are moral philosophy and the philosophy of mind. The latter is an area of philosophy where Nagel clearly believes that his distinctive theses can be most productive. It is our thinking about the mind that is, in his view, most in the grip of falsely objectifying theories. Nagel believes that his approach to the subjective versus objective distinction can offer more insight than rival views into the mind, particularly on the issue of locating the mind in the physical world.

    This chapter will discuss the various components of...

  8. Chapter 4 The possibility of altruism
    (pp. 107-136)

    Nagel’s first major publication was a revision of his doctoral dissertation, which had been supervised by John Rawls.The Possibility of Altruismis a slender volume, but it is Nagel’s most powerful work. It remains, in the opinion of many, his best book. The method Nagel pursues in this book is that of transcendental argument. Arguments of this kind take some fact that we know to be the case as given and work “backwards” to identify thea prioriconditions that make this fact possible.¹ Nagel takes as his basic fact the claim that there is a practical use of...

  9. Chapter 5 Practical objectivity, freedom and a realistic autonomy
    (pp. 137-162)

    The preface ofThe Possibility of Altruismshowed that Nagel was already beginning to revise and develop his view on the nature of reasons and ethics more generally. Further publications in ethics followed, but the next systematic presentation of his views on practical philosophy as a whole was a very influential discussion inThe View from Nowhere. It is a wide-ranging account, focused on the idea of bringing the constraint of objectivity to bear on practice. It ranges from issues about freedom and autonomy, the subject of this chapter, to normative ethics, the subject of the next. Ethical impartialism remains...

  10. Chapter 6 Normative ethics: Nagel’s hybrid ethical theory
    (pp. 163-206)

    In the overall structure ofThe View from Nowhere, Nagel’s continued discussion of how the demands of objectivity apply to practice extends from his consideration of the problem of free will into moral philosophy. The concept of autonomy forms a natural bridge between these two sets of problems. Moral philosophy is conventionally divided into “meta-ethics” and “normative ethics”, and Nagel’s presentation broadly follows this division. However, in the absence of any clear way of demarcating first-order from second-order questions in ethics, now that the subject is not taken to be restricted to conceptual analysis, this distinction has become largely a...

  11. Chapter 7 Justice, equality and partiality
    (pp. 207-232)

    Nagel has made selective interventions in political philosophy throughout his career. Primarily, these have taken the form of individual, highly regarded papers that have had a transformative effect on such issues as positive discrimination, equality, the value of privacy and, most recently, global justice. In the later stages of his career he has turned his attention more consistently to political philosophy. His first book-length contribution to political theory originated as the Locke lectures at the University of Oxford; in a revised form they were published asEquality and Partiality. Since the publication ofEquality and PartialityNagel has continued to...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 233-238)

    In this conclusion I would like to discuss issues that can only be appreciated at the end of this book with all the relevant evidence to hand. What kind of philosopher is Nagel? To what extent is he a systematic philosopher? Does his central distinction between the subjective and the objective retain a core meaning in all the different contexts in which he deploys it? Having traced Nagel’s basic contrast between the subjective and the objective through all its specific articulations in the context of metaphysics and epistemology, the philosophy of mind, practical reason, normative ethics and political philosophy, it...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 239-252)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-266)
  15. Index
    (pp. 267-270)