Nagel, Thomas (1937–)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD087-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

The comprehensiveness of Thomas Nagel’s approach to philosophy sets him apart among late-twentieth-century analytic philosophers. Nagel develops a compelling analysis of the fundamental philosophical problems, showing how they result from our capacity to take up increasingly objective viewpoints that detach us from our individual subjective viewpoints as well as from the viewpoints of our community, nation and species. Our essentially dual nature, which allows us to occupy objective as well as subjective viewpoints, poses unsolvable problems for us because subjective and objective viewpoints reveal conflicting facts and values. Our ability to undertake increasingly detached viewpoints from which objective facts come into view indicates that we are contained in a world that transcends our minds; similarly, our ability to examine our values and reasons from a detached or impartial objective viewpoint implies that moral values are real in the sense that they transcend our personal motives and inclinations. Yet Nagel also holds that our capacity for objective thought is limited by the fact that we cannot detach ourselves completely from our own natures in our attempts either to know our world or to act morally. Subjective facts are equally a part of reality and our moral outlook is essentially the outlook of individual agents with personal and communal ties. Consequently, Nagel argues against any form of reductionism which holds that only objective facts and values are real or which attempts to explain subjective facts and values in terms of objective ones.

    Citing this article:
    Sedivy, Sonia. Nagel, Thomas (1937–), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD087-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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