Nagel, Thomas (1937–)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD087-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

3. Theory of knowledge

Nagel’s realist construal of the distinction between subjective and objective viewpoints affirms a traditional understanding of the problem posed for theories of knowledge that does not allow for revisionist resolution. The problem, according to Nagel, is that while knowledge needs to be objective and so requires that we undertake increasingly objective standpoints, we can only do so to a limited extent, since any outlook that we can occupy will be to some extent subjectively bounded.

Since we cannot attain the completely detached viewpoint from which we could examine our own attempts at understanding the world, Nagel affirms the possibility of sceptical doubt, opposing the anti-sceptical trend which holds that sceptical worries are unwarranted or even incoherent because they impose a theoretical demand for justification of our system of beliefs as a whole from an unobtainable, completely objective standpoint. Moreover, since Nagel urges that knowledge should be of what is correct, even if it is inaccessible to us, he opposes reductive theories which attempt to meet scepticism by reducing the aim or scope of knowledge to concern the way the world appears from the limited objective viewpoints that we can undertake rather than the way it really is. Though he believes that the possibility of limited objectivity is associated with the possibility of scepticism, Nagel endorses a heroic approach to knowledge, like that of Descartes, which acknowledges that we cannot detach from our perceptual and cognitive faculties completely, but attempts to use a priori argumentation to form a conception of our situation as knowers none the less (see Descartes, R. §3; Scepticism).

Citing this article:
Sedivy, Sonia. Theory of knowledge. 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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