9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Intriguing, though flawed attempt at establishing altruism,
This review is from: The Possibility of Altruism (Paperback)
"The Possibility of Altruism" is a classic revival of Kantian ethics in the later twentieth century. Written early on in Nagel's career, it establishes his now-famous distinction between agent-relative and agent-neutral reasons, and argues that each agent-relative reason necessarily has an agent-neutral correlate. Furthermore, Nagel believed that these correlates bring along the initial motivational content of the original agent-relative reason, and transmit that content to other actors by virtue of their generalized format.
While interesting, the attempt is widely regarded mostly as a failure, including by Nagel himself - because of a convincing rebuttal from Nicholas Sturgeon, and concerned commentary by Samuel Scheffler and Phillip Petit. The most significant flaw in the argument seems to be Nagel's imprecision in how motivational content is generalized, and what motivation is provided to other actors. Nonetheless, this work marks the beginning of Nagel's attempts to argue that morality is derived from the tension between the subjective first-person perspective, and our ability to somehow see things more objectively, from a third-personal scientific perspective.
For a more philosophically mature, though less precise statement of Nagel's view, see "The View from Nowhere". Interesting discussions are provided by Christine Korsgaard in "The Sources of Normativity" and "Creating the Kingdom of Ends".