Philosophers / Thinkers

56 Thomas Nagel Quotes About Life (PHILOSOPHER)

Top 10 Most Famous Thomas Nagel Quotes (BEST)

“The point is to live one’s life in the full complexity of what one is, which is something much darker, more contradictory, more of a maelstrom of impulses and passions, of cruelty, ecstacy, and madness, than is apparent to the civilized being who glides on the surface and fits smoothly into the world.”

Thomas Nagel
Philosophy is the childhood of the intellect, and a culture that tries to skip it will never grow up.
Philosophy is the childhood of the intellect, and a culture that tries to skip it will never grow up.

“If sub specie aeternitatis [from eternity’s point of view] there is no reason to believe that anything matters, then that does not matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.”

Thomas Nagel
Absurdity is one of the most human things about us a manifestation of our most advanced and interesting characteristics.
Absurdity is one of the most human things about us: a manifestation of our most advanced and interesting characteristics.

“Humans are addicted to the hope for a final reckoning, but intellectual humility requires that we resist the temptation to assume that tools of the kind we now have are in principle sufficient to understand the universe as a whole.”

Thomas Nagel
Materialism is incomplete even as a theory of the physical world, since the physical world includes conscious organisms among its most striking occupants.
Materialism is incomplete even as a theory of the physical world, since the physical world includes conscious organisms among its most striking occupants.

“The universe has become not only conscious and aware of itself but capable in some respects of choosing its path into the future–though all three, the consciousness, the knowledge, and the choice, are dispersed over a vast crowd of beings, acting both individually and collectively.”

Thomas Nagel
Each of our lives is a part of the lengthy process of the universe gradually waking up and becoming aware of itself.
Each of our lives is a part of the lengthy process of the universe gradually waking up and becoming aware of itself.

“Eventually, I believe, current attempts to understand the mind by analogy with man-made computers that can perform superbly some of the same external tasks as conscious beings will be recognized as a gigantic waste of time.”

Thomas Nagel
To look for a single general theory of how to decide the right thing to do is like looking for a single theory of how to decide what to believe.
To look for a single general theory of how to decide the right thing to do is like looking for a single theory of how to decide what to believe.

4 Thomas Nagel Quotes on Consciousness

“The great cognitive shift is an expansion of consciousness from the perspectival form contained in the lives of particular creatures to an objective, world-encompassing form that exists both individually and intersubjectively. It was originally a biological evolutionary process, and in our species it has become a collective cultural process as well. Each of our lives is a part of the lengthy process of the universe gradually waking up and becoming aware of itself.”

Thomas Nagel
Without consciousness the mind-body problem would be much less interesting. With consciousness it seems hopeless.
Without consciousness the mind-body problem would be much less interesting. With consciousness it seems hopeless.
Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable.
Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable.
Fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism--something it is like for the organism.
Fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism–something it is like for the organism.

3 Thomas Nagel Quotes on Atheism and Skepticism

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.”

Thomas Nagel

“It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, I hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

Thomas Nagel

“My skepticism is not based on religious belief, or on a belief in any definite alternative. It is just a belief that the available scientific evidence, in spite of the consensus of scientific opinion, does not in this matter rationally require us to subordinate the incredulity of common sense. That is especially true with regard to the origin of life.”

Thomas Nagel

2 Thomas Nagel Quotes on Reality

Altruism itself depends on a recognition of the reality of other persons, and on the equivalent capacity to regard oneself as merely one individual among many.
Altruism itself depends on a recognition of the reality of other persons, and on the equivalent capacity to regard oneself as merely one individual among many.
There is a tendency to seek an objective account of everything before admitting its reality.
There is a tendency to seek an objective account of everything before admitting its reality.

6 Thomas Nagel Quotes about Life

“It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection. We are supposed to abandon this naïve response, not in favor of a fully worked out physical/chemical explanation but in favor of an alternative that is really a schema for explanation, supported by some examples. What is lacking, to my knowledge, is a credible argument that the story has a nonnegligible probability of being true.”

Thomas Nagel
Life may be not only meaningless but absurd.
Life may be not only meaningless but absurd.
The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes.
The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes.
Even if life as a whole is meaningless, perhaps that's nothing to worry about. Perhaps we can recognize it and just go on as before.
Even if life as a whole is meaningless, perhaps that’s nothing to worry about. Perhaps we can recognize it and just go on as before.
Leading a human life is a full-time occupation, to which everyone devotes decades of intense concern.
Leading a human life is a full-time occupation, to which everyone devotes decades of intense concern.
If life is not real, life is not earnest, and the grave is its goal, perhaps it's ridiculous to take ourselves so seriously.
If life is not real, life is not earnest, and the grave is its goal, perhaps it’s ridiculous to take ourselves so seriously.

3 Thomas Nagel Quotes on the Defenders of the Intelligent Design

“In thinking about these questions I have been stimulated by criticisms of the prevailing scientific world picture by the defenders of intelligent design. Even though writers like Michael Behe and Stephen C. Meyer are motivated at least in part by their religious beliefs, the empirical arguments they offer against the likelihood that the origin of life and its evolutionary history can be fully explained by physics and chemistry are of great interest in themselves. Another skeptic, David Berlinski, has brought out these problems vividly without reference to the design inference. Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.”

Thomas Nagel

“I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion. That world view is ripe for displacement.”

Thomas Nagel

“The denier that ID [intelligent design] is science faces the following dilemma. Either he admits that the intervention of such a designer is possible, or he does not. If he does not, he must explain why that belief is more scientific than the belief that a designer is possible. If on the other hand he believes that a designer is possible, then he can argue that the evidence is overwhelmingly against the actions of such a designer, but he cannot say that someone who offers evidence on the other side is doing something of a fundamentally different kind. All he can say about that person is that he is scientifically mistaken.”

Thomas Nagel

4 Thomas Nagel Quotes on Teleology

“Some form of natural teleology, a type of explanation whose intelligibility I briefly defended in the last chapter, would be an alternative to a miracle— either in the sense of a wildly improbable fluke or in the sense of a divine intervention in the natural order. The tendency for life to form may be a basic feature of the natural order, not explained by the nonteleological laws of physics and chemistry. This seems like an admissible conjecture given the available evidence. And once there are beings who can respond to value, the rather different teleology of intentional action becomes part of the historical picture , resulting in the creation of new value. The universe has become not only conscious and aware of itself but capable in some respects of choosing its path into the future—though all three, the consciousness, the knowledge, and the choice, are dispersed over a vast crowd of beings, acting both individually and collectively.”

Thomas Nagel

“I am drawn to a fourth alternative, natural teleology, or teleological bias, as an account of the existence of the biological possibilities on which natural selection can operate. I believe that teleology is a naturalistic alternative that is distinct from all three of the other candidate explanations: chance, creationism, and directionless physical law. To avoid the mistake that White finds in the hypothesis of nonintentional bias, teleology would have to be restrictive in what it makes likely, but without depending on intentions or motives. This would probably have to involve some conception of an increase in value through the expanded possibilities provided by the higher forms of organization toward which nature tends: not just any outcome could qualify as a telos. That would make value an explanatory end, but not one that is realized through the purposes or intentions of an agent. Teleology means that in addition to physical law of the familiar kind, there are other laws of nature that are “biased toward the marvelous”.”

Thomas Nagel

“In either case, natural teleology would mean that the universe is rationally governed in more than one way—not only through the universal quantitative laws of physics that underlie efficient causation but also through principles which imply that things happen because they are on a path that leads toward certain outcomes—notably, the existence of living, and ultimately of conscious, organisms.”

Thomas Nagel

“This is a throwback to the Aristotelian conception of nature, banished from the scene at the birth of modern science. But I have been persuaded that the idea of teleological laws is coherent, and quite different from the idea of explanation of the intentions of a purposive being who produces the means to his ends by choice. In spite of the exclusion of teleology from contemporary science, it certainly shouldn’t be ruled out a priori. Formally, the possibility of principles of change over time tending toward certain types of outcome is coherent, in a world in which the nonteleological laws are not fully deterministic.”

Thomas Nagel

2 Thomas Nagel Quotes on God’s Existence

“Theism pushes the quest for intelligibility outside the world. If God exists, he is not part of the natural order but a free agent not governed by natural laws. He may act partly by creating a natural order, but whatever he does directly cannot be part of that order.”

Thomas Nagel
Perhaps the belief in God is the belief that the universe is intelligible, but not to us.
Perhaps the belief in God is the belief that the universe is intelligible, but not to us.

3 Thomas Nagel Quotes on being Subjective and Objective

“To put it schematically, the claim “Everything is subjective” must be nonsense, for it would itself have to be either subjective or objective. But it can’t be objective, since in that case it would be false if true. And it can’t be subjective, because then it would not rule out any objective claim, including the claim that it is objectively false.”

Thomas Nagel
Every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view.
Every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view.

“The problem is one of opposition between subjective and objective points of view. There is a tendency to seek an objective account of everything before admitting its reality. But often what appears to a more subjective point of view cannot be accounted for in this way. So either the objective conception of the world is incomplete, or the subjective involves illusions that should be rejected.”

Thomas Nagel

2 Thomas Nagel Quotes on Common Sense

“It seems to me that, as it is usually presented, the current orthodoxy about the cosmic order is the product of governing assumptions that are unsupported, and that it flies in the face of common sense.”

Thomas Nagel

“Common sense doesn’t have the last word in ethics or anywhere else, but it has, as J. L. Austin said about ordinary language, the first word: it should be examined before it is discarded.”

Thomas Nagel

17 Thomas Nagel Quotes to Ponder

“It is often remarked that nothing we do now will matter in a million years. But if that is true, then by the same token, nothing that will be the case in a million years matters now. In particular, it does not matter now that in million years nothing we do now will matter.”

Thomas Nagel
What is it like to be a bat What is it like for a bat to be a bat
What is it like to be a bat? What is it like for a bat to be a bat?
We are an episode between two oblivions.
We are an episode between two oblivions.
I'm not sure I understand how responsibility for our choices makes sense if they are not determined.
I’m not sure I understand how responsibility for our choices makes sense if they are not determined.
If you want the truth rather than merely something to say, you will have a good deal less to say.
If you want the truth rather than merely something to say, you will have a good deal less to say.

“Everything, living or not, is constituted from elements having a nature that is both physical and nonphysical – that is, capable of combining into mental wholes. So this reductive account can also be described as a form of panpsychism: all the elements of the physical world are also mental.”

Thomas Nagel
I should not really object to dying were it not followed by death.
I should not really object to dying were it not followed by death.

“Postmodernism’s specifically academic appeal comes from its being another in the sequence of all-purpose “unmasking” strategies that offer a way to criticize the intellectual efforts of others not by engaging with them on the ground, but by diagnosing them from a superior vantage point and charging them with inadequate self-awareness. Logical positivism and Marxism were used by academics in this way, and postmodernist relativism is a natural successor in the role.”

Thomas Nagel
Everyone is entitled to commit murder in the imagination once in a while, not to mention lesser infractions.
Everyone is entitled to commit murder in the imagination once in a while, not to mention lesser infractions.

“In every area of thought we must rely ultimately on our judgments, tested by reflection, subject to correction by the counterarguments of others, modified by the imagination and by comparison with alternatives.”

Thomas Nagel
I conceive ethics as a branch of psychology.
I conceive ethics as a branch of psychology.
The most radical conclusion to draw from this would be that your mind is the only thing that exists.
The most radical conclusion to draw from this would be that your mind is the only thing that exists.

“The widespread willingness to rely on thermonuclear bombs as the ultimate weapon displays a cavalier attitude toward death that has always puzzled me. My impression is that most of the defenders of these weapons are not suitably horrified at the possibility of a war in which hundreds of millions of people would be killed. I suspect that an important factor may be belief in an afterlife, and that the proportion of those who think that death is not the end is much higher among the partisans of the bomb than among its opponents.”

Thomas Nagel
The human will to believe is inexhaustible.
The human will to believe is inexhaustible.

“The social dimension of reticence and non-acknowledgment is most developed in forms of politeness and deference. We don’t want to tell people what we think of them, and we don’t want to hear from them what they think of us, though we are happy to surmise their thoughts and feelings, and to have them surmise ours, at least up to a point. We don’t, if we are reasonable, worry too much what they may say about us behind our backs, just as we often say things about a third party that we wouldn’t say to his face. Since everyone participates in these practices, they aren’t, or shouldn’t be, deceptive. Deception is another matter, and sometimes we have reason to object to it, though sometimes we have no business knowing the truth, even about how someone really feels about us.”

Thomas Nagel
If I thought that everything I did was determined by my circumstance and my psychological condition, I would feel trapped.
If I thought that everything I did was determined by my circumstance and my psychological condition, I would feel trapped.

“My target is a comprehensive, speculative world picture that is reached by extrapolation from some of the discoveries of biology, chemistry, and physics–a particular naturalistic Weltanschauung that postulates a hierarchical relation among the subjects of those sciences, and the completeness in principle of an explanation of everything in the universe through their unification. Such a world view is not a necessary condition of the practice of any of those sciences, and its acceptance or nonacceptance would have no effect on most scientific research.”

Thomas Nagel

(MUST READ) Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False

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