What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy

What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy

by Thomas Nagel

Although he states his own opinions clearly, Nagel leaves these fundamental questions open, allowing students to entertain other solutions and encouraging them to think for themselves.

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The Basic Questions of Philosophy Nagel presents this book as a direct introduction to a selection of nine philosophical problems which the reflective human mind finds naturally puzzling, each of which can be understood in itself, without reference to the history of thought so Nagel opts to omit discussion on the great philosophical writings of the past or the cultural background of those writings and approach them as questions that should be tackled on their own rights. For the best way to begin the study of philosophy is to think about them directly. These problems have been written about for thousands of years, but the philosophical raw material comes directly from the world and our relation to it, not from writings of the past. Nagel guides us throughout these questions and also through how each should naturally occur to us as outgrowths of thinking on each other. Philosophy as a Natural Instinct As can be seen from the list above, these are not complex questions. Each question-heading-chapter is enough to set out a small streak of related questions in your own mind and you enter it confident that you have asked all the questions that Nagel can possibly think of and you have.

Other Minds, The Mind-Body Problem, The Meaning of Words, and Free Will. I think the following may be an encapsulated version of his thesis in Mind and Cosmos: We won't have an adequate general conception of the world until we can explain how, when a lot of physical elements are put together in the right way, they form not just a functioning biological organism but a conscious being. The problem is to explain how this is possible: How does anything we say or write mean anything--including all the words in this book? The last two chapters also seemed to be those big general areas that get discussed religiously or in arguments about religion and whether God exists and so forth: Death, and The Meaning of Life. When people start discussing their philosophical views it can feel like a general bull or "rap" session, since rarely have individuals read the same books or are they using the same framework, so it's good to have read through an organized rendering of the material.

If we think that there is a world outside of ourselves, how do we know there are other minds like ours? For most people, the answers come from the experience of living in the world, whether we think it is real or not. We find that we cannot live in the world with the wrong answers. So that leaves me thinking that there is one more question Nagel should have included in this book: How do we move from question to answer in real life? That would have been the type of question Albert Camus asks at the beginning of The Myth of Sisyphus: "Judging whether or not life is worth living .

60 pages or 600 pages, if a book can tell me a story I never heard, introduce me interesting characters, tell me things I never heard of and what not influence the way I look at things and life at large, I would consider it a fair read. Like Author says book will reflect his own view of few philosophical problems and will not necessarily represent what most philosophers think.

An excellent little book introducing nine major philosophical questions, including the mind-body problem, free will and death.

Thomas Nagel is an American philosopher, currently University Professor and Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, where he has taught since 1980.