There is charm to reading a philosopher who confesses to finding things bewildering. But I regret the appearance of this book. It will only bring comfort to creationists and fans of “intelligent design”, who will not be too bothered about the difference between their divine architect and Nagel’s natural providence. It will give ammunition to those triumphalist scientists who pronounce that philosophy is best pensioned off. If there were a philosophical Vatican, the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index [of prohibited books].
The problem with the book, Blackburn states at the beginning of his piece, is that
. . . only a tiny proportion of its informed readers will find it anything other than profoundly wrong-headed. For, as the title suggests, Nagel’s central idea is that there are things that science, as it is presently conceived, cannot possibly explain.
Blackburn doesn't explicitly say that there ought to be a "philosophical Vatican," and an index of prohibited books but he seems to be open to the deeply unphilosophical idea of censoring views that are "profoundly wrong-headed." And why should such views be kept from impressionable minds? Because they might lead them astray into doctrinal error. For even though Nagel explicitly rejects God and divine providence, untutored intellects might confuse Nagel's teleological suggestion with divine providence.
Nagel's great sin, you see, is to point out the rather obvious problems with reductive materialism as he calls it. This is intolerable to the scientistic ideologues since any criticism of the reigning orthodoxy, no matter how well-founded, gives aid and comfort to the enemy, theism -- and this despite the fact that Nagel's approach is naturalistic and rejective of theism!
So what Nagel explicitly says doesn't matter. His failing to toe the party line makes him an enemy as bad as theists such as Alvin Plantinga. (If Nagel's book is to be kept under lock and key, one can only wonder at the prophylactic measures necessary to keep infection from leaking out of Plantinga's tomes.)
Blackburn betrays himself as nothing but an ideologue in the above article. For this is the way ideologues operate. Never criticize your own, your fellow naturalists in this case. Never concede anything to your opponents. Never hesitate, admit doubt or puzzlement. Keep your eyes on the prize. Winning alone is what counts. Never follow an argument where it leads if it leads away from the party line.
Treat the opponent's ideas with ridicule and contumely. For example, Blackburn refers to consciousness as a purple haze to be dispelled. ('Purple haze' a double allusion, to the Hendrix number and to a book by Joe Levine on the explanatory gap.)
Why does the bug need to be shown the way out? Pop the cork and he's gone.
Why did Wittgenstein feel the need to philosophize his way out of philosophy? He should have known that metaphilosophy and anti-philosophy are just more philosophy with all that that entails: inconclusiveness, endlessness . . . . He should have just walked away from it.
If the room is too smoky, there is no necessity that you remain in it. You are free to go, the door is unlocked. This figure's from Epictetus and he had the quitting of life in view. But the same holds for the quitting of philosophy. Just do it, if that's what you want. It can be done.
What cannot be done, however, is to justify one's exit. (That would be like copulating your way to chastity.) For any justification proffered, perforce & willy-nilly, will be just more philosophy. You cannot have it both ways. You either walk away or stay.
(Exercise for the reader: Cite chapter and verse of the Epictetus and Wittgenstein passages to which I allude above.)