Ideas of Thomas Nagel, by Theme

[American, b.1937, Born in Yugoslavia. Studied with Rawls. Professor at New York University.]

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1. Philosophy / A. Wisdom / 3. Wisdom Deflated
There is more insight in fundamental perplexity about problems than in their supposed solutions
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 1. Philosophy
If your life is to be meaningful as part of some large thing, the large thing must be meaningful
Philosophy is the childhood of the intellect, and a culture can't skip it
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 5. Aims of Philosophy / b. Philosophy as transcendent
It seems mad, but the aim of philosophy is to climb outside of our own minds
1. Philosophy / G. Scientific Philosophy / 3. Scientism
Modern philosophy tends to be a theory-constructing extension of science, but there is also problem-solving
2. Reason / A. Nature of Reason / 5. Objectivity
Views are objective if they don't rely on a person's character, social position or species
Things cause perceptions, properties have other effects, hence we reach a 'view from nowhere' [Reiss/Sprenger]
Realism invites scepticism because it claims to be objective
7. Existence / C. Structure of Existence / 5. Supervenience / c. Significance of supervenience
Pure supervenience explains nothing, and is a sign of something fundamental we don't know
8. Modes of Existence / B. Properties / 7. Emergent Properties
Emergent properties appear at high levels of complexity, but aren't explainable by the lower levels
12. Knowledge Sources / B. Perception / 2. Qualities in Perception / b. Primary/secondary
We achieve objectivity by dropping secondary qualities, to focus on structural primary qualities
Modern science depends on the distinction between primary and secondary qualities
12. Knowledge Sources / B. Perception / 4. Sense Data / d. Sense-data problems
Sense-data are a false objectification of what is essentially subjective
13. Knowledge Criteria / B. Internal Justification / 2. Pragmatic justification
Epistemology is centrally about what we should believe, not the definition of knowledge
13. Knowledge Criteria / C. External Justification / 5. Controlling Beliefs
We can't control our own beliefs
13. Knowledge Criteria / C. External Justification / 8. Social Justification
Justifications come to an end when we want them to
13. Knowledge Criteria / D. Scepticism / 6. Scepticism Critique
Scepticism is based on ideas which scepticism makes impossible
13. Knowledge Criteria / E. Relativism / 4. Cultural relativism
You would have to be very morally lazy to ignore criticisms of your own culture
14. Science / C. Induction / 4. Reason in Induction
Observed regularities are only predictable if we assume hidden necessity
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 1. Mind / a. Mind
Inner v outer brings astonishment that we are a particular person
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 5. Unity of Mind
Brain bisection suggests unity of mind isn't all-or-nothing [Lockwood]
15. Nature of Minds / B. Features of Minds / 1. Consciousness / b. Essence of consciousness
An organism is conscious if and only if there is something it is like to be that organism
16. Persons / B. Nature of the Self / 4. Presupposition of Self
We may be unable to abandon personal identity, even when split-brains have undermined it
If you assert that we have an ego, you can still ask if that future ego will be me
Personal identity cannot be fully known a priori
The question of whether a future experience will be mine presupposes personal identity
16. Persons / D. Continuity of the Self / 4. Split Consciousness
I can't even conceive of my brain being split in two
16. Persons / F. Free Will / 1. Nature of Free Will
The most difficult problem of free will is saying what the problem is
17. Mind and Body / A. Mind-Body Dualism / 7. Zombies
Can we describe our experiences to zombies?
17. Mind and Body / D. Property Dualism / 6. Mysterianism
Nagel's title creates an impenetrable mystery, by ignoring a bat's ways that may not be "like" anything [Dennett]
We can't be objective about experience
17. Mind and Body / E. Mind as Physical / 7. Anti-Physicalism / d. Explanatory gap
Physicalism should explain how subjective experience is possible, but not 'what it is like' [Kirk,R]
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 6. Meaning as Use
The meaning of a word contains all its possible uses as well as its actual ones
20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 5. Action Dilemmas / c. Omissions
Noninterference requires justification as much as interference does
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 1. Nature of Value / c. Objective value
Total objectivity can't see value, but it sees many people with values
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 2. Values / d. Death
We don't worry about the time before we were born the way we worry about death
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 2. Values / e. Altruism
If our own life lacks meaning, devotion to others won't give it meaning
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / f. Good as pleasure
Pain doesn't have a further property of badness; it gives a reason for its avoidance
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / i. Moral luck
Moral luck can arise in character, preconditions, actual circumstances, and outcome
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / a. Preconditions for ethics
Morality must be motivating, and not because of pre-moral motives
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / d. Ethical theory
There is no one theory of how to act (or what to believe)
23. Ethics / B. Contract Ethics / 6. Game Theory
Game theory misses out the motivation arising from the impersonal standpoint
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 1. Deontology
Something may be 'rational' either because it is required or because it is acceptable
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 2. Duty
If cockroaches can't think about their actions, they have no duties
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 3. Universalisability
The general form of moral reasoning is putting yourself in other people's shoes
As far as possible we should become instruments to realise what is best from an eternal point of view
If we can decide how to live after stepping outside of ourselves, we have the basis of a moral theory
We should see others' viewpoints, but not lose touch with our own values
In ethics we abstract from our identity, but not from our humanity
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 4. Categorical Imperative
I can only universalise a maxim if everyone else could also universalise it
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 6. Motivation for Duty
We find new motives by discovering reasons for action different from our preexisting motives
23. Ethics / E. Utilitarianism / 3. Motivation for Altruism
Utilitarianism is too demanding
23. Ethics / F. Existentialism / 2. Nihilism
If a small brief life is absurd, then so is a long and large one
24. Political Theory / A. Basis of a State / 4. Original Position / c. Difference principle
An egalitarian system must give priority to those with the worst prospects in life
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 6. Liberalism / c. Liberal equality
A legitimate system is one accepted as both impartial and reasonably partial
25. Social Practice / B. Equalities / 1. Grounds of equality
Equality was once opposed to aristocracy, but now it opposes public utility and individual rights
In judging disputes, should we use one standard, or those of each individual?
The ideal of acceptability to each individual underlies the appeal to equality
25. Social Practice / B. Equalities / 2. Political equality
Equality can either be defended as good for society, or as good for individual rights
Equality nowadays is seen as political, social, legal and economic
Democracy is opposed to equality, if the poor are not a majority
25. Social Practice / C. Rights / 1. Basis of Rights
A morality of rights is very minimal, leaving a lot of human life without restrictions or duties
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 9. General Causation / d. Causal necessity
Given the nature of heat and of water, it is literally impossible for water not to boil at the right heat