Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Commonweal on Nagel

Commonweal magazine has published a symposium on Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, to which physicist Stephen Barr, biologist Kenneth Miller, and philosopher Gary Gutting have contributed.  It’s temporarily available for free on the Commonweal website, here


  1. Ed,

    Just after we finish debating all those conspiracies, you have to drag the neocons into this again!

    [You accidentally said "Commentary" when you meant to say "Commonweal"]

    You are the best :-)

  2. Miller's response really seems to miss the point in a major way. In fact it's borderline dishonest.

  3. Whoops! Thanks, Jeff, I've fixed it.

  4. Hello Professor,

    You also said temporary when you meant temporarily.

  5. Reading the introduction by the editors, I see that they use the term "supernatural" in the way almost everyone does, i.e. meaning "spiritual" or "anything beyond or above matter". It is necessary to have it mind, otherwise the discussion becomes one of terminology and loses all interest and usefulness.

    Something analogous happened with Hart, who used the term "supernatural", particularly referring to knowledge, for anything above the level of empirically-derived scientific knowlege.

  6. BTW, it could be useful to have a convention to denote whether a term is to be interpreted according to its Thomist or its common/everyday meaning,
    just as there are a number of conventions in computer programming to denote whether a numeric constant is to be interpreted according to the hexadecimal or the decimal system, so that e.g.:
    0x100 = decimal 256

    Thus it could be:
    $supernatural = Thomist spiritual.

  7. Promising that I will not touch the topic again, a better idea for a possible convention could be the T' and E' prefixes, using T' for "Thomist" and E' for "Everyday" or "Everybody Else". Thus e.g.

    E'supernatural = T'spiritual
    E'natural = T'physical

    where when writing to a Thomist audience the T' could be assumed and the E' made explicit, whereas in a dialogue with the external world the E' could be assumed and the T' made explicit.

  8. ImmunophilosopherMay 17, 2013 at 3:32 AM

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who found Miller's response bizarre.

    I'm used to seeing some pretty unusual perspectives on religion, but I never thought I'd see a practicing Roman Catholic parroting the standard scientistic cop-out of dismissing Nagel's arguments on the self-undermining grounds that they are not based on "empirical evidence" and don't include "statistical argument"!

    If one was to remove the single brief sentence about him "gladly sharing" the idea of "something above... nature", you'd be left with a piece which could easily have been written by Jerry Coyne (or perhaps a much more polite version thereof).

    Perhaps he's just spent so much time trying to battle Intelligent Design using Neodarwinist principles that he's ended up internalizing it. At least the other two participants in the symposium tried to critically engage with Nagel's arguments.

    I'm also inclined to agree with the above anonymous commenter that Miller's unfavorable comparison of Nagel with Schrodinger implies at the very least an insufficiently attentive reading of "Mind and Cosmos", if not a deliberate attempt at obscurantism.

  9. Complete beside your post, Professor, but I think this website about Aristotle's philosophy might be worthy of inclusion on your links to philosophical websites: I think it does a very good job of presenting Aristotle's thought for the common man to grasp:

  10. By the way: The Chronicle of Higher Education also has an interesting overview of Nagel's book. Definitely of a different flavor than most of the others, positive or negative.