Ideas from 'Equality and Partiality' by Thomas Nagel [1991], by Theme Structure

[found in 'Equality and Partiality' by Nagel,Thomas [OUP 1995,0-19-509839-0]].

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20. Action / C. Motives for Action / 5. Action Dilemmas / c. Omissions
Noninterference requires justification as much as interference does
                        Full Idea: Noninterference requires justification as much as interference does.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (Equality and Partiality [1991], Ch.10)
                        A reaction: I'm not convinced by this, as a simple rule. If I spend my whole life doing just the minimum for my own survival, I don't see why I should have to justify that, and I don't see a state is obliged to justify it either.
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / a. Preconditions for ethics
Morality must be motivating, and not because of pre-moral motives
                        Full Idea: My own view is that moral justification must be capable of motivating, but not in virtue of reliance on pre-moral motives.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (Equality and Partiality [1991], Ch.5)
                        A reaction: This may well be the core and essence of Kantian moral theory. I'm inclined to think of it as 'Kant's dream', which is of ultra-rational beings who are driven by pure rationality as a motivator. People who fit this bill tend to be academics.
23. Ethics / B. Contract Ethics / 6. Game Theory
Game theory misses out the motivation arising from the impersonal standpoint
                        Full Idea: I do not favour the route taken by Hobbes's modern descendants, using game theory, since I believe the impersonal standpoint makes an essential contribution to individual motivation which must be addressed by any ethically acceptable theory.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (Equality and Partiality [1991], Ch.4)
                        A reaction: The assumption of self-seeking at the core of game theory seems very bizarre, and leads to moral approval of free riders. Nagel offers the best response, which is the Kantian impersonal view. Nagel may be optimistic about motivation, though.
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 3. Universalisability
In ethics we abstract from our identity, but not from our humanity
                        Full Idea: In pursuit of the kind of objectivity needed in the physical sciences, we abstract even from our humanity; but nothing further than abstraction from our identity (that is, who we are) enters into ethical theory.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (Equality and Partiality [1991], Ch.2)
                        A reaction: The 'brief' summary of this boils down to a nice and interesting slogan. It epitomises the modern Kantian approach to ethics. But compare Idea 4122, from Bernard Williams.
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 4. Categorical Imperative
I can only universalise a maxim if everyone else could also universalise it
                        Full Idea: It is implicit in the categorical imperative that I can will that everyone should adopt as a maxim only what everyone else can also will that everyone should adopt as a maxim.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (Equality and Partiality [1991], Ch.5)
                        A reaction: This is a nice move, because it shifts the theory away from a highly individualistic Cartesian view of morality towards the idea that morality is a community activity.
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 6. Liberalism / d. Liberal principles
A legitimate system is one accepted as both impartial and reasonably partial
                        Full Idea: A legitimate system is one which reconciles the two universal principles of impartiality and reasonable partiality so that no one can object that his interests are not being accorded sufficient weight or that the demands on him are excessive.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (Equality and Partiality [1991], Ch.4)
                        A reaction: This seems an appealing principle, and a nice attempt at stating the core of Kantian liberalism. It is obviously influenced by Scanlon's contractualist view, in the idea that 'no one can object', because everyone sees the justification.
25. Social Practice / B. Equalities / 2. Political equality
Democracy is opposed to equality, if the poor are not a majority
                        Full Idea: As things are, democracy is the enemy of comprehensive equality, once the poor cease to be a majority.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (Equality and Partiality [1991], Ch.9)
                        A reaction: This is obvious once you think about it, but it is well worth saying, because it is tempting to think that we live in an 'equal' society, merely because we are equal in things such as voting rights and equality before the law.