The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Thomas Nagel

Thomas Nagel is a professor of philosophy at New York University.

He is known within philosophy of mind as an advocate of the idea that consciousness and subjective experience cannot be reduced to brain activity. One of his most famous articles is What is it like to be a bat? [ Article ](The question, though often attributed to Nagel, was originally posed by Timothy L.S. Sprigge.) This article was originally published in 1974 in the journal The Philosophical Review but has since been reprinted in several books that are concerned with consciousness and the mind, such as The Mind's I by Daniel Dennett and Douglas Hofstadter. (Also reprinted in Readings in the Philosophy of Psychology, edited by Ned Block and the book Mortal Questions .)

Nagel first argued that the subjective experience of consciousness can never be attained through the objective methods of reductionistic science. Conscious experience has a subjective character to it, and science, which seeks an objective, general description of nature, cannot capture the subjective character of consciousness. Second, Nagel concluded that because of the subjective character of experience, "we cannot even pose the mind-body problem" in a sensible way and "it seems unlikely that a physical theory of mind can be contemplated." While many philosophers of mind and cognitive neuroscientists accept the fundamental distinction between the subjective and the objective (Though some, most notably philosopher Daniel Dennett, deemed the subjective a cognitive illusion), they often have not accepted Nagel's dismal conclusions. For example, philosophers such as Michael Tye have gone ahead and proposed reductive theories of subjective consciousness.

For many years, Nagel has conducted a seminar noted for a dazzling array of guest speakers with his colleague Ronald Dworkin.

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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04