Friday, April 15, 2011

Gilbert Meilaender reviews Nagel's The Last Word

A redated post.

I believe that Thomas Nagel's The Last Word is really a defense of the Argument from Reason that stops short of offering theism as the conclusion. Nevertheless it does attack naturalism as we know it. The is Lewis scholar Meilaender's review of Nagel's book.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very much enjoyed that. Thanks for the link - I'll have to go buy Nagel's book now...

T. Linehan

Ilíon said...

I tried to read it ... but the *site* is so goofed up (what has FT done to itself?), or I am haveing such browser problems, that I gave up.

Would it be too much to ask you to duplicate the text here?

Ilíon said...

On the other hand, I am able to read the page via Firefox.

Ilíon said...

Meilaender (with apparent quotations of Nagel): "... "The issue, in a nutshell, is whether the first person, singular or plural, is hiding at the bottom of everything we say or think."
...
If not the first person singular or plural, what might hide "at the bottom" of our thinking and speaking? Reason, answers Nagel. My reasoning is "an attempt to turn myself into a local representative of the truth, and in action of the right." That is, when we reason, we generalize. We look-sometimes at least-for arguments that are not limited by our particular location, by the place we happen to occupy. In reasoning, therefore, we are led "
inexorably to certain thoughts in which ‘I’ plays no part." Or, we might say, that in the very act of my own reasoning, I somehow get out of my skin. I am not simply trying to work out what I myself think, the implications of my own point of view. On the contrary, I am seeking what is true for all of us.
...
A striking argument indeed. And not one for religious folk simply to seize upon with glee. For we ourselves ought to be able to understand quite well Nagel’s point here. If there really is a "last word" about the truth of things, a "logos" that binds the cosmos together in a system that is both knowable and mysterious, then Nagel’s understanding of reason as an "aspiration to universality" is a kind of natural piety. Perhaps no more than that is possible unless and until that last word becomes personal, becomes for us the last (or, also, first) speaker who addresses us-as Barth put it, "the final word of the original chairman."
"

A person can "attempt [via reason] to turn [him]self into a local representative of the truth" only if "the truth" is itself a person. A person may have a representative, a non-person may not. When a person attempts to present himself as the representative of a non-person, what he's actually doing is anthropomorphizing the non-personal entity.

My point is that it appears that the first person is indeed "hiding at the bottom of everything we say or think" -- just not in the manner that the subjectivists mean.

As I keep saying, it's too bad that the words 'subjective' and 'objective' have quite the meanings they do.

mattghg said...

Good review of a good book.