You know you mean to read Mind & Cosmos, the “most despised” anti-materialist, anti-Darwin book ever. But you may get drawn into a discussion of it before you get there.
Here, Nagel offers the core of the book:
the scientific outlook, if it aspires to a more complete understanding of nature, must expand to include theories capable of explaining the appearance in the universe of mental phenomena and the subjective points of view in which they occur – theories of a different type from any we have seen so far.
There are two ways of resisting this conclusion, each of which has two versions. The first way is to deny that the mental is an irreducible aspect of reality, either (a) by holding that the mental can be identified with some aspect of the physical, such as patterns of behavior or patterns of neural activity, or (b) by denying that the mental is part of reality at all, being some kind of illusion (but then, illusion to whom?). The second way is to deny that the mental requires a scientific explanation through some new conception of the natural order, because either (c) we can regard it as a mere fluke or accident, an unexplained extra property of certain physical organisms – or else (d) we can believe that it has an explanation, but one that belongs not to science but to theology, in other words that mind has been added to the physical world in the course of evolution by divine intervention.More.
He maintains the reality of the mind, but not of God.
One reason Nagel is so hated is that he made the questions respectable. Time was when people could be put down or blacklisted just for asking or wondering whether materialism is true.
17 Replies to “Thomas Nagel’s handy summary of his Mind & Cosmos’ theme”
Denyse, if you are going to report news, why don’t you actually do some research and cite some evidence?
What evidence do you have that Nagel is “so hated” at all? Apparently you got it from a review that cited a Guardian blogger who liked it, but quoted two people who didn’t. One was Pinker, who apparently thought the book was “shoddy” but that Nagel was a “once-great thinker”. The other was Jerry Coyne. Who else “despises” Nagel?
Not me. I’ve read it, and I enjoyed it, as have a number of people I know. Most agree that there are major flaws but that it is an interesting argument. The main thing wrong with it in my view is that the actual scientific scholarship is indeed “shoddy”, which is a shame. The argument itself I think is very nicely developed, which isn’t surprising.
So before you start explaining a phenomenon, how about presenting evidence that it actually exists? And, if you can show who it is that actually “despises” Nagel, how about doing some research to find out why, instead of simply opining that “one reason Nagel is so hated is that he made the questions respectable”?
And perhaps some evidence for your assertion that “Time was when people could be put down or blacklisted just for asking or wondering whether materialism is true.”
Or else stop calling this “news”.
I’ve rarely read a “news” piece by you that wasn’t largely factually wrong, as in your recent absurd claim that the people who bombarded feminists with misogynistic rape threats for proposing a female face for the new English £10 were somehow objecting to the retirement of Darwin from the position.
I understand that this site is to “serve the ID community” but shouldn’t you serve actual information, rather propaganda that bears little relationship to any actual facts?
The designation of News is shorthand for News and Commentary.
Nagel’s book received fairly negative reviews from Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg (The Nation), Peter Godfrey-Smith (London Review of Books), John Dupre (Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews) and Simon Blackburn (The New Statesman).
It got a fairly positive review from Alva Noe (“Cosmos and Culture”, a NPR blog) and a very positive review from Plantinga (The New Republic).
Elizabeth is a master of the one-two punch. She says she enjoyed Nagel herself, which entitles her to be oblivious to all the hostility from her compadres. Of course, the science is “shoddy” – if it doesn’t support materialism, it must be, by definition of course. I just got done reading the OBI-Springer saga and, hey, now THERE’S a classic in the genre. Nothing to do with her, of course, just with the general environment. O’Leary for News
I don’t know anything about the Nagel book but it would be nice to see an admission from Denyse that her item on the £10 note was misjudged.
It doesn’t entitle me to anything, nor does it remove your responsibility for demonstrating that the hostility towards Nagel you imply is general is coming from more than two people – or even one (because there’s a difference between thinking a book is “shoddy” and despising the writer).
Well, no. And I didn’t even say that the science is shoddy. I said tje scientific scholarship in Nagel’s book is shoddy, because it’s out of date, not because the science cited “doesn’t support materialism”. But the book is not primarily about science. His argument IMO would be worth considering even if he’d updated the science.
Have you read the book, Denyse?
I have no idea what you are talking about.
KN: I’m sure you agree that even if a book receives a bad review, that doesn’t mean that the reviewer “despises” or is “hates” the author.
And without evidence that anyone either despises or hates Nagel, it doesn’t require an explanation.
It’s fair to say that Nagel’s book received generally negative reviews from the philosophers of science (Dupre, Weisberg, Godfrey-Smith) whose reviews I saw. But I certainly don’t think that the book or its author was ‘despised’ or ‘hated.’
There was a discussion topic about here a few months ago, but from what I recall, I was the only participant who had read it — or who had read any the reviews I mentioned. But that doesn’t surprise me in the least.
I hate Nagel. There, I said it. Is the matter closed now?
“All arguments are based on unfounded assumptions and cloaked in intellectual-sounding prose to convince the reader that the author’s flawed worldview must certainly be correct. I would not recommend this to anyone.” –Ben
“This guy is nuts, and the book should not be allowed on the market.” –Chester
“This is beyound question the most turged, impenetrable, opaque, deadly boring, and very badly written book that I have ever encountered.” –Thomas
“Nagel’s cosmic teleology would not merely re-frame our thinking around Descartes’ mind-body dualism, it actually seeks to revive unscientific notions that go back to Aristotle.” –Acatalepsia
“Nagel has a strong reputation in philosophical circles but in this book he seems to have trouble even grasping the issues he brings (tries to bring, that is) up.” –William
“When reading the book, it is clear that he is not even widely read in popular science. It is also clear that many of his ideas come from reading popular pseudo-scientific books written by creationist and intelligent design advocates.” –Blaine
“I purchased this for my Kindle but after reading a thorough review that appeared in October 22 edition of The Nation I returned it before I downloaded it.” –Kevin
“I would have bet that Nagel was not stupid, even if he is wrong in this regard. But he trots out the old quote mine of Richard Lewontin…I guess I’ll have to recalibrate.” –John
You missed this one, Phinehas!
Read more closely. 🙂
As a point of comparison, I found the following review by Peter S Bradley much more informative and balanced:
I thought your comment was a selection from Amazon to demonstrate that some people despise Nagel, rather than just being critical of his book. I thought I was helping! 😉
Though I might add, no true critic of Nagel would be a bad speller or a tenant. I am sure they are all householders!
I appreciate the effort, but again point out that if you’d read more closely, you’d have seen that I had it covered @10.
You were probably thrown off by the fact that the “reviewer” managed to spell that particular sentence correctly. 🙂