30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
analytic philosophy at its best,
This review is from: The Possibility of Altruism (Paperback)
This is a first-class piece of analytic philosophy, with all the good and bad things that go along with that. It's not a page-turner, and it is pretty technical. But it's extremely precise, and it's tightly written. If you're a philosopher with Kantian inclinations, or someone who specializes in ethics and/or metaethics, you have to read it. If you're an intelligent person looking for some stimulating philosophical discussion, I'd probably recommend first reading something else Nagel has written. Mortal Questions is probably his most captivating and wide-ranging work; it's one of those rare collections that stimulates both philosophers and non-philosophers alike. Other Minds is a great introduction to Nagel's thinking about other philosophers--it does for other philosophers what Mortal Questions does for Nagel himself. The View From Nowhere is probably his most important piece of hard-core philosophy, and it's a must read for anyone interested in doing epistemology, metaphysics, or philosophy of mind (The Possibility of Altruism is also hard-core, but it's scope is considerably more limited and its thinking slightly less mature). The Last Word is a nice palliative for upset stomach due to postmodern rants and ramblings. I think it goes wrong in some important ways, but it's fighting the right battle.
Finally, if you're looking for a less technical work that clears up confusion about what the altruism debate is really about, I would recommend Vaulting Ambition by Philip Kitcher, or possibly Unto Others by Sober and Wilson (for those a little more inclined towards biology). As advertised, Nagel's work argues for the possibility of altruism. The other two books argue for both it's possibility and its actuality. Kitcher in particular goes through the arguments for and against altruism with an even hand, impressively diagnosing the misunderstandings that inform this debate.