Thomas Nagel is at bottom not an anti physicalist but a defender of it

Tümkaya, Serdal
Şen, Aysun
Contrary to what many philosophers believe, Thomas Nagel tends to believe that (though not a strong but) a weaker form of physicalism is true. What he argues against are certain sorts of physicalism: scientistic, reductionistic, and naturalistic ones. His notion of physicalism (more accurately, the forms to which he objects) can be summarized as the following: an approach that is based upon common-sense, assuming the possibility of logical reductionism, granting the correctness of folk psychology, instead of explaining subjective aspects of experience ignoring it. Along the same lines, if there is really such a sort of physicalism, in the way Nagel conceives it, then the leading naturalists such as Quine and the Churchlands would denounce it. Such a kind of physicalism, I believe, is not a particular theory but an idealistic-oriented armchair philosophy. Moreover, the point for Nagel in fact is not physicalism as such but the objectivity problem. In this particular debate, Nagel should be regarded as being on the (relatively) objectivist side. On the other hand, Nagel stipulates that every physicalist explanation must be objective. In addition, he, in his 1965 article, ``Physicalism'', explicitly states that a weaker form of physicalism is likely to be true. But it would be better, he argues in ``What is it like to be a bat?'' (1974) and ``Conceiving the Impossible and the Mind-Body Problem'' (1998), if we conceptually revise our mentalistic ideas. Hence, we should see him as a revisionary materialist, as he explicitly calls himself. Furthermore, since he powerfully argues against the primary tools, which recently gained excessive popularity among analytical philosophers, such as conceptual analysis, relying on intuition, and irresponsible thought experiments, philosophical naturalism becomes one of the few practical ways for Nagel to adopt. In this work, I both argue for these and a further claim that Nagel is somewhat a naturalist and even a reductivist, under the light of his articles and books written in 1970, 1971, 1986, and 1998, such as the ones I have noted above.
Citation Formats
S. Tümkaya and A. Şen, “Thomas Nagel is at bottom not an anti physicalist but a defender of it,” presented at the Salzburg Conference for Young Analytic Philosophy 2016, (07 - 09 Eylül 2016), Salzburg, Avusturya, 2016, Accessed: 00, 2021. [Online]. Available: