- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Revised ed. edition (February 9, 1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195056442
- ISBN-13: 978-0195056440
- Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.5 x 5.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The View From Nowhere Revised ed. Edition
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"In writing this remarkable book, Thomas Nagel has succeeded in combining qualities that are rarely found together. Its aims are intellectually ambitious, and their achievement involves the unqualified repudiation of cherished views held by many of Nagel's more or less eminent contemporaries....He engages with precisely those philosophical doubts and anxieties that the reflective nonprofessional may be supposed to feel, and that are often inadequately dealt with by those whose professional business is philosophy."--P. F. Strawson, The New Republic
"Remarkable....All of his discussions are clear and insightful, but some reach a level of originality and illumination that opens genuinely new avenues of philosophical thought....A rare combination of profundity and clarity, along with simplicity of expression. It should be recommended to all those who are bored with or despair about philosophy."--Charles Taylor, Times Literary Supplement
"At a time when so much philosophy is devoted to technical discussion of esoteric questions, Nagel has written an original book, accessible to any educated reader, on some of the largest questions about our knowledge of the world and our place in it....Those who read it will be made to question many of their deepest beliefs, to consider new possibilities, and as a result to become more intellectually awake."--Jonathan Glover, The New York Review of Books
"An illuminating book by one of the most provocative philosophers writing today."--Religious Studies Review
"The clarity of [Nagel's] argument and the courage of his convictions are admirable. Highly recommended."--Key Reporter
About the Author
Thomas Nagel is University Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the School of Law at New York University. His books include The Possibility of Altruism, The View from Nowhere, and What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. In 2008, he was awarded the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy and the Balzan Prize in Moral Philosophy.
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He wrote in the Introduction to this 1986 book, “This book is about a single problem: how to combine the perspective of a particular person inside the world with an objective view of that same world, that person and his viewpoint included… The difficulty of reconciling the two standpoints … is the most fundamental issue about morality, knowledge, freedom, the self, and the relation of mind to the physical world.” (Pg. 3)
He states, “The reductionist program that dominates current work in the philosophy of mind is completely misguided, because it is based on the groundless assumption that a particular conception of objective reality is exclusive of what there is. Eventually, I believe, current attempts to understand the mind by analogy with man-made computers that can perform superbly some of the same external tasks as conscious beings will be recognized as a gigantic waste of time. The true principles underlying the mind will be discovered, if at all, only by a more direct approach.” (Pg. 16)
He observes, “anything we come to believe must remain suspended in a great cavern of skeptical darkness. Once the door is open, it can’t be shut again. We can only try to make our conception of our place in the world more complete---essentially developing the objective standpoint… The best we can do is to construct a picture that might be correct. Skepticism is really a way of recognizing our situation, though it will not prevent us from continuing to pursue something like knowledge, for our natural realism makes it impossible for us to be content with a purely subjective view.” (Pg. 74)
He asserts, “Some may be tempted to offer or at least to imagine an evolutionary explanation, as is customary these days for everything under the sun. Evolutionary hand waving is an example of the tendency to take a theory which has been successful in one domain and apply it to anything else you can’t understand---not even to apply it, but vaguely to imagine such an application. It is also an example of the pervasive and reductive naturalism of our culture. ‘Survival value’ is now invoked to account for everything from ethics to language.” (Pg. 78)
He continues, “The question is… whether an enormous excess mental capacity, not explainable by natural selection, was responsible for the generation and spread of the sequence of intellectual instruments that has emerged over the last thirty thousand years… The only reason so many people do believe [Darwinism] is that advanced intellectual capacities clearly exist, and this is the only available candidate for a Darwinian explanation of their existence. So it all rests on the assumption that every noteworthy characteristic of human beings … must have a Darwinian explanation. But what is the reason to believe that?... What, I will be asked, is my alternative? Creationism? The answer is that I don’t have one, and I don’t need one to reject all existing proposals as improbable… One doesn’t have to believe anything, and to believe nothing is not to believe something.” (Pg. 80-81)
He proposes, “Where does the burden of proof lie with respect to the possibility of objective values? Does their possibility have to be demonstrated before we can begin to think more specifically about which values are revealed or obliterated by the objective standpoint? Or is such an inquiry legitimate so long as objective values haven’t been shown to be impossible? I think the burden of proof has been often misplaced in this debate, and that a defeasible presumption that values need not be illusory is entirely reasonable until it is shown not to be.” (Pg. 143)
He contends, “This brings us to a final point. There can be no ethics without politics. A theory of how individuals should act requires a theory… of the institutions under which they should live: institutions which substantially determine their starting points, the choices they can make, the consequences of what they do, and their relations to one another. Since the standpoint of political theory if necessarily objective and detached, it offers among temptations to simplify, which it is important to resist. A society must in some sense be organized in accordance with a single set of principles, even though people are very different.” (Pg. 188)
He acknowledges, “To take an example close to home: the bill for two in a moderately expensive New York restaurant equals the annual per capita income of Bangladesh. Every time I eat out, not because I have to but just because I feel like it, the money could do noticeably more good if contributed to famine relief. The same could be said of many purchases of clothing, wine, theater tickets, vacations, gifts, books, records, furniture, stemware, etc. It all adds up. It adds up to both a form of life and to quite a lot of money. If one is near the upper end of a very unequal world economic distribution, the difference in cost between the life to which one is probably accustomed and a much grubbier but perfectly tolerable existence is enough to feed several dozen starving families, year in, year out. Doubts about the best way to combat famine and other evils are beside the point. It is clear enough that a strongly impersonal morality, with any significant requirements of partiality, can pose a serious threat to the kind of personal life that many of us take to be desirable.” (Pg. 190)
This is another one of Nagel’s most thought-provoking and challenging books, and will be “must reading” for anyone studying Nagel, as well as interesting reading for any students of contemporary approaches to ethics.