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Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament: Essays 2002-2008 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195394115
ISBN-10: 0195394119
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Editorial Reviews

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"These essays are all written in Nagel's clear and familiar style; they combine substantial arguments and insights with the charms of a friendly conversation partner. Highly recommended to those interested in theism versus atheism and the current science-religion debate." --Religous Studies Review


About the Author


Thomas Nagel is University Professor, Professor of Philosophy, and Professor of Law at New York University. Among his books are The View from Nowhere, Equality and Partiality, and The Last Word.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 18, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195394119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195394115
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.9 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a breeze to read. I read it in a day. Thomas Nagel's enormous strength (akin to Richard Rorty's) is his calm explanatory clarity. He is very good at getting to the heart of a thing, then discussing it with insight and measure. For example, there is an essay on Nietzsche in this collection that, for its clean, seemingly effortless prose---and the light that he casts upon his subject---is worth the price of the whole book. Nagel also discusses Hobbes, Rawls, Michael Sandel, Catharine MacKinnon, and Sartre admirably.

In this particular collection of essays, however, it is on the subject of religion and atheism that Nagel shines most brightly. He is very good at talking about naturalism, Richard Dawkins, and Intelligent Design. By contrast with the entrenched factions dug in around these subjects, Nagel is sane and insightful. My impression is that Nagel, when push comes to shove regarding purpose in the universe, inclines toward Camus's notion of the absurd. But he is just agnostic enough to keep other possibilities in play, and so not shut down discussion with eye-rolling contempt. This makes him, apparently, noxious in the eyes of New Atheists. And well he should be, for his is a still open mind.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a collection of essays, save for the title essay, that were published previously and for the most part in non-specialist journals (The New Republic, NYRB, LRB, TLS, etc.), so they are accessible to the reader with no training in philosophy and make for pleasant reading. Nagel groups them under three headings: Religion, Politics and Humanity. All are thoughtful and thought-provoking, a judgment that will be of no surprise to readers of his work, and some are controversial. In "Public Education and Intelligent Design," for example, he argues that the "political urge to defend science education against the threats of religious orthodoxy . . . has resulted in a counter orthodoxy, supported by bad arguments, and a tendency to overstate the legitimate scientific claims of evolutionary theory." Although these essays will probably be thought to fall squarely in the so-called "analytic" tradition, they are neither narrowly technical nor riddled with jargon. Any open-minded reader will both enjoy and benefit from them.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This collection of essays from 2002 to 2008 is divided in three parts: Religion, Politics and Humanity. The latter is a tribute to `four admired philosophers' - Bernard Williams, David Wiggins, Brian O'Shaughnessy and, perhaps surprisingly, Jean-Paul Sartre. The middle part of the book deals with International Law, Global Justice and Cosmopolitanism and is written with Nagel's usual clarity and wit, if at times with a somewhat technical feel to it. These thirty pages also seem to have jumped right out of another book. On the other hand, being a professor of Law, this is of course his field of expertise.
The first part is perhaps the most interesting. Here Nagel confronts the New Atheists and their fight against creationism and the ID-movement, in and out of court. After accusing Richard Dawkins of philosophical amateurism he goes on to argue for `an inclusion of some mention an ID in a biology class' and that `a noncommittal discussion of some of the issues' in public education would be preferable to an absolute exclusion. Apart from it being unclear which these `some' issues might be, the question surely is not if creationism and ID might be mentioned and discussed but rather if it should be taught on an equal footing with evolutionary biology and Darwinism. Nagel says he can't pass judgement as a layman and that he merely wants to stress the importance of the current debate. Here it appears that Nagel does the same thing he accuses Dawkins of doing, namely arguing as an amateur in a specialist field. This seems to be a case of the biologist turned philosopher and vice versa. He brings in a number of biologists to buttress his argument, which is fine, but isn't that what Dawkins & co also do? Set out for unchartered territory, which in some quarters might be called trespassing?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament
By Thomas Nagel
I devoured this book in less than a week, I enjoy reading Nagel that much. This book is a collection of essays dealing with religion, politics and humanity, often the subjects over lap, as in perhaps the most interesting essay of this book "Public Education and Intelligent Design" an essay for which previously I was only able to read an abstract.
Nagel in this essay and in the others dealing with religion proves himself to be quite an open minded atheist. Indeed, posting a few quotes from this essay and others to may face book page made atheist friends of mine quite uneasy. I had to laugh as he was accused of being a "new age Philosopher" and "guilty of religious thinking", read: "guilty of questioning scientific dogma, guilty of thinking". Here's an atheist willing to take on Dawkins for shoddy scholarship. Here is an atheist willing to say evolution, especially evolutionary reductionism, meaning the doctrine that all of life, even the origin of it, can be explained by evolutionary processes just doesn't make sense. He as a professor of constitutional law is also willing to argue that Intelligent Design can and probably should be taught in school if for nothing else to expose students to differing ways of thinking, though he thinks biology teachers might not be up for the task. Read into that what you want, I suppose.
Nagel himself, is one who seems to wish that evolution was true, but admits that so far it is less than convincing. He hesitates to endorse Intelligent Design, and holds to his atheism maintaining that there may be other alternatives.
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