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Wednesday, October 10, 2012


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I'm still working my way through Mind and Cosmos. Either I missed it or I haven't yet come to Nagel's argument for (2).


Thank you for the summary of Nagel's latest book. I have been excited about it ever since hearing that it would come out soon. I am surprised that he takes a panpsychist approach; however, I am reminded of an interview with J.P. Moreland in which he stated that the debate in the philosophy of mind should be between pansychism and dualism. Perhaps we are starting to see the beginnings of the shift in the debate.

Does Nagel ever address the combination problem that plagues panpsychism? Even if it is granted that particles are conscious or proto-conscious, how can an aggregate of such particles form a conscious being with a unified center of consciousness? David Barnett, in his article "You are Simple" in the book The Waning of Materialism argues that anything composed of parts cannot be conscious. He provides a series of examples to explain this intuition, namely that since two people holding hands do not constitute a third conscious being, then neither does a combination of any other two kinds of things. He then argues that no other combination of things can make a conscious being even when we increase the amount of things, their arrangement, the kinds of things they are, and so on.




The argument for (2)is by way of his rejection of theism about which I hope to say something shortly.

Mr. Marrufo,

You're welcome. Given the hopelessness of materialism, it is reasonable for J. P. to see the debate as between panpsychism and dualism.

Arguments from the unity of consciousness, which go back to Kant at least, are very serious. If they tell against materialism, as I think they do, then I suspect they will also tell against panpsychism. Nagel doesn't address this problem in the book in question, but he may in one of his articles.

As long as there is whole --> parts reduction, the problem should arise even if the parts are proto-mental. Nagel rejects psychophysical reduction but not whole --> parts reduction.

Here is an analogy. Manny, Moe, and Jack can cooperate in changing a tire. One guy does one thing, another another, etc. But they can't cooperate in thinking the thought 'Tires are heavy' with Manny thinking 'tires,' Moe 'are' and Jack 'heavy.'

This should be explored in a separate post. Thanks for bringing it up.


"the energetic activity considered in physics is the emotional intensity entertained in life"


emotion-sentient beings;

varieties of emotion (pleasure, sadness, disgust...) each represent a specific affective tone -- each a specific "what it feels like to";

consciousness is what it feels like to monitor what appears w/r what is actually there.


Thanks for your clear synopsis. I am working through Mind and Cosmos; it is shaping up to be a solid contribution from a careful and fair-minded thinker. But questions arise:

First, one could make a distinction between consciousness and rationality. If we use consciousness in the way Nagel has used the term in other works, and we use rationality to include the capabilities of reason, understanding, making inferences, forming beliefs, having forethought, etc., then there seems to be a difference between consciousness and rationality. A being can be conscious but not rational (a bat or a squirrel, for example).

With this distinction in mind, propositions 2 and 5 appear inconsistent. If naturalism is true (proposition 2), then how do human beings understand nature (proposition 5)? In other words, if mind is the product of unguided evolution and the unguided interaction of proto-conscious matter, then why should we trust that our minds are so constituted as to have sufficient rationality to understand the intelligibility of nature? Consciousness alone is insufficient to understand the universe; for that task, rationality seems necessary.

If we do have the rationality to understand nature, then where does rationality come from? Does it emerge from proto-conscious matter? Does it evolve from proto-conscious matter? How would such emergence or evolution occur, given that consciousness is not the same as rationality? Pan-psychic naturalism (I’ll call it PN) might explain consciousness, but it does not seem to adequately explain rationality.

Second, although Nagel recognizes objective values (in morality, logic, and math, for example) and notes the inability of materialism to account for such values, it is not clear how PN alone can explain them. What if such values are eternal and not derivable from nature? What would be the source of ultimate value? If such values exist, it would seem that PN would need to be underpinned by some sort of theism or Platonism to account for them.

Of course, these questions are not sufficient to remove PN from the debating table, but they do suggest that PN is missing something. Nagel is hopeful that nature can ultimately account for rationality, value and purpose, but the door appears to remain open for a non-naturalistic explanation as well.

Frequent Reader,

Thank you for reading frequently. Yes, Nagel is in the Whiteheadian ballpark.


Rationality is discussed later in the book, and of course N. distinguishes cs. from rationality. I'll discuss that later.


Thanks for this helpful review. As we discussed earlier, I think you'll find Hans Jonas articulating an ontology of life very much along Nagel's lines you've described here. He describes "modern materialism" as a "partial monism" because it evades the problem of living being and subjectivity. Near the conclusion of the first essay in The Phenomenon of Life, Jonas asks, “Where else than at the beginning of life can inwardness be placed?” From a quite different philosophical orientation and approach he does seem to arrive at a comprehensive hypothesis very much like Nagel's global neutral monism.

You're welcome, Joel. What you say about Jonas whets my appetite. Unfortunately, the book is not in the ASU library.

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