Ideas from 'The View from Nowhere' by Thomas Nagel [1986], by Theme Structure

[found in 'The View from Nowhere' by Nagel,Thomas [OUP 1989,0-19-505644-2]].

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1. Philosophy / A. Wisdom / 3. Wisdom Deflated
There is more insight in fundamental perplexity about problems than in their supposed solutions
                        Full Idea: Certain forms of perplexity (say about freedom, knowledge and the meaning of life) seem to me to embody more insight than any of the supposed solutions to those problems.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], Intro)
                        A reaction: Obviously false solutions won't embody much insight. This sounds good, but I suspect that the insight is in the recognition of the facts which give rise to the perplexity. I can't think of anything in favour of perplexity for its own sake.
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 1. Philosophy
Philosophy is the childhood of the intellect, and a culture can't skip it
                        Full Idea: Philosophy is the childhood of the intellect, and a culture that tries to skip it will never grow up.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], Intro)
                        A reaction: Can he really mean that a mature culture doesn't need philosophy?
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 5. Aims of Philosophy / b. Philosophy as transcendent
It seems mad, but the aim of philosophy is to climb outside of our own minds
                        Full Idea: We are trying to climb outside of our own minds, an effort that some would regard as insane and that I regard as philosophically fundamental.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], Intro)
                        A reaction: It is not only philosophers who do this. It is an essential feature of the mind, and is inherent in the concept of truth.
2. Reason / A. Nature of Reason / 5. Objectivity
Views are objective if they don't rely on a person's character, social position or species
                        Full Idea: A view or form of thought is more objective than another if it relies less on the specifics of the individual's makeup and position in the world, or on the character of the particular type of creature he is.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], Intro)
                        A reaction: Notice that this defines comparative objectivity, rather than an absolute. I take it that something must be entirely objective to qualify as a 'fact', and so anything about which there is a consensus that it is a fact can be taken as wholly objective.
Realism invites scepticism because it claims to be objective
                        Full Idea: The search for objective knowledge, because of its commitment to realism, cannot refute scepticism and must proceed under its shadow, and scepticism is only a problem because of the realist claims of objectivity.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], V.1)
Things cause perceptions, properties have other effects, hence we reach a 'view from nowhere'
                        Full Idea: First we realise that perceptions are caused by things, second we realise that properties have other effects (as well as causing perceptions), and third we conceive of a thing's true nature without perspectives. That is the 'view from nowhere'.
                        From: report of Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], p.14) by Reiss,J/Spreger,J - Scientific Objectivity 2.1
                        A reaction: [My summary of their summary] This is obviously an optimistic view. I''m not sure how he can justify three precise stages, given than animals probably jump straight to the third stage, and engage with the nature's of things.
12. Knowledge Sources / B. Perception / 2. Qualities in Perception / b. Primary/secondary
We achieve objectivity by dropping secondary qualities, to focus on structural primary qualities
                        Full Idea: At the end [of the three stages of objectivity] the secondary qualities drop out of our picture of the external world, and the underlyiing primary qualities such as shape, size, weight, and motion are thought of structurally.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], II)
                        A reaction: This is the orthodox view for realists about the external world, and I largely agree. The only problem I see is that secondary qualities contain information, such as the colour of rotting fruit - but then colour is not an essential feature of rot.
Modern science depends on the distinction between primary and secondary qualities
                        Full Idea: The distinction between primary and secondary qualities is the precondition for the development of modern physics and chemistry.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], V.3)
13. Knowledge Criteria / B. Internal Justification / 2. Pragmatic justification
Epistemology is centrally about what we should believe, not the definition of knowledge
                        Full Idea: The central problem of epistemology is what to believe and how to justify one's beliefs, not the impersonal problem of whether my beliefs can be said to be knowledge.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], V.1)
                        A reaction: Wrong. The question of whether what one has is 'knowledge' is not impersonal at all - it is having the social status of a knower or expert.
13. Knowledge Criteria / D. Scepticism / 6. Scepticism Critique
Scepticism is based on ideas which scepticism makes impossible
                        Full Idea: The sceptic reaches scepticism through thoughts that scepticism makes unthinkable.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], V.6)
14. Science / C. Induction / 4. Reason in Induction
Observed regularities are only predictable if we assume hidden necessity
                        Full Idea: Observed regularities provide reason to believe that they will be repeated only to the extent that they provide evidence of hidden necessary connections, which hold timelessly.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], V.5)
16. Persons / B. Nature of the Self / 4. Presupposition of Self
Personal identity cannot be fully known a priori
                        Full Idea: The full conditions of personal identity cannot be extracted from the concept of a person at all: they cannot be arrived at a priori.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], III.2)
                        A reaction: However, if you turn to experience to get the hang of what a person is, it is virtually impossible to disentangle the essentials from the accidental features of being a person. How essential are memories or reasoning or hopes or understandings or plans?
The question of whether a future experience will be mine presupposes personal identity
                        Full Idea: The identity of the self must have some sort of objectivity, otherwise the subjective question whether a future experience will be mine or not will be contentless.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], III.3)
                        A reaction: This sounds a bit circular and question-begging. If there is no objective self, then the question of whether a future experience will be mine would be a misconceived question. I sympathise with Nagel's attempt to show how personal identity is a priori.
16. Persons / D. Continuity of the Self / 4. Split Consciousness
I can't even conceive of my brain being split in two
                        Full Idea: It is hard to think of myself as being identical with my brain. If my brain is to be split, with one half miserable and the other half euphoric, my expectations can take no form, as my idea of myself doesn't allow for divisibility.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], III.4)
                        A reaction: Nagel is trying to imply that there is some sort of conceptual impossibility here, but it may just be very difficult. I can think about my lovely lunch while doing my miserable job. Does Nagel want to hang on to a unified thing which doesn't exist?
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 1. Nature of Value / c. Objective value
Total objectivity can't see value, but it sees many people with values
                        Full Idea: A purely objective view has no way of knowing whether anything has any value, but actually its data include the appearance of value to individuals with particular perspectives, including oneself.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], VIII.2)
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 2. Values / d. Death
We don't worry about the time before we were born the way we worry about death
                        Full Idea: We do not regard the period before we were born in the same way that we regard the prospect of death.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], XI.3)
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 2. Values / e. Altruism
If our own life lacks meaning, devotion to others won't give it meaning
                        Full Idea: If no one's life has any meaning in itself, how can it acquire meaning through devotion to the meaningless lives of others?
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], XI.2)
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / f. Good as pleasure
Pain doesn't have a further property of badness; it gives a reason for its avoidance
                        Full Idea: The objective badness of pain is not some mysterious further property that all pains have, but just the fact that there is reason for anyone capable of viewing the world objectively to want it to stop.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], VIII.2)
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 1. Deontology
Something may be 'rational' either because it is required or because it is acceptable
                        Full Idea: "Rational" may mean rationally required or rationally acceptable
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], X.4)
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 2. Duty
If cockroaches can't think about their actions, they have no duties
                        Full Idea: If cockroaches cannot think about what they should do, there is nothing they should do.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], VIII.3)
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 3. Universalisability
If we can decide how to live after stepping outside of ourselves, we have the basis of a moral theory
                        Full Idea: If we can make judgements about how we should live even after stepping outside of ourselves, they will provide the material for moral theory.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], VIII.1)
We should see others' viewpoints, but not lose touch with our own values
                        Full Idea: One should occupy a position far enough outside your own life to reduce the importance of the difference between yourself and other people, yet not so far outside that all human values vanish in a nihilistic blackout (i.e.aim for a form of humility).
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], XI.2)
23. Ethics / D. Deontological Ethics / 6. Motivation for Duty
We find new motives by discovering reasons for action different from our preexisting motives
                        Full Idea: There are reasons for action, and we must discover them instead of deriving them from our preexisting motives - and in that way we can acquire new motives superior to the old.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], VIII.1)
23. Ethics / E. Utilitarianism / 3. Motivation for Altruism
Utilitarianism is too demanding
                        Full Idea: Utilitarianism is too demanding.
                        From: Thomas Nagel (The View from Nowhere [1986], X.5)