Customer Reviews: Mortal Questions (Canto Classics)
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on October 10, 2013
Like Steven's Customer Review, mine also has nothing to do with the content of the book. I don't think there can be any doubt about the excellence of this text and Professor Nagel's standing as one of the greatest philosophers around today. But I have a serious quibble with Cambridge University Press's miserable typeface and printing. Although my copy is the 16th printing (2013), it looks as they have simply used typesetting from the first edition of 1979 and reprinted that as a kind of facsimile copy of the old original book, which strikes me as a cheapskate move. It has a nice new cover and is nicely bound, but I was disappointed to see the printing, something which is not obvious from the Look Inside provided by Amazon. So if this would bother you, as it did me, now you know. I can confirm, however, that my copy doesn't stink!
But rest assured that these papers, all dating back to the Seventies, are top-notch Philosophy and important reading for anyone seriously interested in the study of Philosophy.
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on March 6, 2014
Whether you agree or disagree with Nagel, the insight given to the numerous problems addressed by the pieces, included in this work, are worthwhile for either side of the debate. A good read. However, be warned that Nagel tends to be at times difficult to understand due to his dense writing style.
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on December 27, 2015
This book concerned quite a variety of topics. Prof. Nagel's reasoning and discussions are quite balanced and exquisitely thought out. He is especially interested in finding the balancing point between subjective and objective viewpoints. Some of the topics are not particularly timely for us at the present, but I definitely recommend his essays. They give one a good intellectual workout on questions that are important for us humans, not just of interest to those who are specialists in various branches of philosophy. For myself, I feel that I long for answers to the questions he considers. They are not of academic interest alone. The fact that much of what he writes in this book just represent starts in thinking about these questions, rather than supplying firm answers, is frustrating, but to be expected for hard, important problems. I recommend this book of essays as stepping stones in a philosopher's progress.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon February 15, 2015
Thomas Nagel (born 1937) is an American philosopher, currently University Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, where he has taught since 1980. He has written many other books, such as ,,Equality and Partiality,,, etc.

[NOTE: page numbers below refer to a 215-page paperback edition.]

He wrote in the Preface to this 1979 book, “My own philosophical sympathies and antipathies are easily stated. I believe one should trust problems over solutions, intuition over arguments, and pluralistic discord over systematic harmony. Simplicity and elegance are never reasons to think that a philosophical theory is true: on the contrary, they are usually grounds for thinking it false… It is always reasonable in philosophy to have great respect for the intuitive sense of an unsolved problem, because in philosophy our methods are always themselves in question, and this is one way of being prepared to abandon them at any point. What ties these views about philosophical practice together is the assumption that to create understanding, philosophy must CONVINCE. That means it must produce or destroy belief, rather than merely provide us with a consistent set of things to say. And belief, unlike utterance, should not be under the control of the will, however motivated. It should be involuntary.” (Pg. x-xi)

He continues, “These essays… are held together by an interest in the point of view of individual human life and the problem of its relation to more impersonal conceptions of reality… The same concern with the place of subjectivity in an objective world motivates the essays on philosophy of mind… and others. It has been at the center of my interests since I began to think about philosophy, determining the problems I work on and the kind of understanding I want to reach. Some of these essays were written while the United States was engaged in a criminal war, criminally conducted…” (Pg. xii)

He suggests, “Given the limitations on human action, it is naïve to suppose that there is a solution to every moral problem to which the world can face us. We have always known that the world is a bad place. It appears that it may be an evil place as well.” (Pg. 74)

He begins an essay with the statement, “The great modern crimes are public crimes… The judgments I am presupposing are controversial: not everyone agrees that American policy during the Vietnam War was criminal. But even those who do think so may find it hard to attach the crimes to the criminals, in virtue of the official role in which they were committed. Few old anti-war demonstrators would feel more than mildly uncomfortable about meeting one of these distinguished figures, unless it was just because we were unaccustomed to personal contact with anyone as powerful as the president of the World Bank.” (Pg. 76)

He asserts, “If someone with an income of $2000 a year trains a gun on someone with an income of $100,000 a year and makes him hand over his wallet, that is robbery. If the federal government withholds a portion of the second person’s salary … and gives some of it to the first person in the form of welfare payments, food stamps, or free health care, that is taxation. In the first case it is (in my opinion) an impermissible use of coercive means to achieve a worthwhile end. In the second case, the means are legitimate, because they are impersonally imposed by an institution designed to promote certain results. Such general methods of distribution are preferable to theft as a form of private initiative and also to individual charity.” (Pg. 88)

He argues, “For a defender of rights, the respects in which each person is inviolable present a direct and independent limit to what any other person may do to him. There is no single combination of viewpoints which yields a common goal for everyone, but each of us must limit our actions to a range that is not unacceptable to anyone else in certain respects. Typically, the range of what may be done because it violates no rights is rather large.” (Pg. 115)

He observes, “To look for a single general theory of how to decide the right thing to do is like looking for a single theory of how to decide what to believe. Such progress as we have made in the systematic justification and criticism of beliefs has not come mostly from general principles of reasoning but from the understanding of particular areas, marked out by the different sciences, by history, by mathematics. These vary in exactness, and large areas of belief are left out of the scope of any theory. These must be governed by common sense and ordinary, prescientific reasoning.” (Pg. 135)

In his famous essay, “What is it like to be a bat?”, he points out: “Without consciousness the mind-body problem would be much less interesting. With consciousness it seems hopeless. The most important and characteristic feature of conscious mental phenomena is very poorly understood. Most reductionist theories do not even try to explain it. And careful examination will show that no currently available concept of reduction is applicable to it. Perhaps a new theoretical form can be devised for the purpose, but such a solution, if it exists, lies in the distant intellectual future.” (Pg. 166)

This book contains some of Nagel’s most interesting essays, and will be very helpful for anyone studying his philosophy.
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on October 19, 2003
I highly recommend this work for philosophers and lay-people alike. This is an excellent collection of some of Nagel's thoughts on a wide range of thought-provoking topics. More than the appeal of the topics discussed, it is the clear, lucid, plain-language approach to philosophical analysis that sets this book apart. The ruminations on death and absurdity are among the highlights, along with the famous analysis of what it is like to be a bat.
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on May 30, 2012
The title of this review sounds a little mean, I certainly don't intend to be mean, but this books (literally) has a very bad odor. I don't know if the problem is the ink or the paper or the binding glue! It seems that I'm very sensitive to this "smell", so much so that I cannot sit and read the material for any length of time. I will continue to let the pages 'dry' on my window ledge and hope that, in the near future, I will be able to read it. Until stinks!
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