Nagel’s View From Nowhere

Mentioned a couple of times recently since reading Nagel’s most recent (2012-ish ?) Mind and Cosmos, that I’d felt the need to go back to some of his earlier work of which I was aware by reference and quotation, but had never properly read.

So, I’m reading The View From Nowhere (1986), and despite so far reading only the introduction, I’m already full of quotes I feel the need to share. Another of those I (wish I) could have written myself:

[The process of progressive objectification] will not always yield a result, and sometimes it will be thought to yield a result when it really doesn’t; then as Nietzsche warned, one will get a false objectification of an aspect of reality that cannot be better understood from a more objective standpoint. Although there is a connection between objectivity and reality [….] still not all reality is better understood the more objectively it is viewed.

Appearance and perspective are essential parts of what there is, and in some respects they are best understood from a less detached standpoint. Realism underlies claims of objectivity and detachment, but it supports them only up to a point.

The internal-external tension pervades human life, but is particularly prominent in the generation of philosophical problems. I shall concentrate on four topics: the metaphysics of mind, the theory of knowledge, free-will and ethics. But the problem has equally important manifestations with respect to the metaphysics of space and time, the philosophy of language and aesthetics. In fact there is probably no area of philosophy in which it doesn’t play a significant role.

The subjectivity of consciousness is an irreducible feature of reality – without which we couldn’t do physics or anything else – and it must occupy as fundamental a place in any credible world-view as matter, energy, space, time and numbers. [….] I believe it is already clear that any correct theory of the relation between mind and body would radically transform our overall conception of he world and would require a new understanding of the phenomena now thought of as physical. [….] The good, like the true, includes irreducibly subjective elements.

This is in some respects a deliberately reactionary work. There is a significant strain of idealism in contemporary philosophy, according to which what there is and how things are cannot go beyond what we could in principle think about. This inherits the crude appeal of logical positivism [….]. Philosophy is also infected by a broader tendency of contemporary intellectual life: SCIENTISM. Scientism is actually a special form of idealism, for it puts one type of human understanding in charge of the universe and what can be said about it. At its most myopic it assumes that everything there is must be understandable by scientific theories of the kind we have developed to date – physics and evolutionary biology being the current paradigms – as if the current age were not just another in the series [of ages of understanding].

Precisely because of their dominance, these attitudes are ripe for attack. Of course some of the opposition is foolish; it can degenerate into the rejection of science – whereas anti-scientism is essential to the defence of science against misappropriation. [….] Too much time is wasted because of the assumptions that methods already in existence will solve problems for which they were not designed.

Emphases are mine. I hadn’t realised “scientism as infection” was a Nagel concept. I’d thought it was absolutely mine – magic! Objectivity is much simpler to handle so is easier to communicate – the memetic effect:

[….] a persistent temptation to turn [intellectual pursuit of understanding]
into something less difficult and more shallow than it is.
[Whereas] it is extremely difficult.

Or, as I would put it “just complicated enough” to be at risk from simplistication.

[Post Note : where did I see another recent reference to the concept of “just complicated enough” ?]

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