Discussion 24: Thomas Nagel

Thomas Nagel

Thomas Nagel, American Philosopher. Photo on Britannica.

Having structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view means that it is possible for a person to imagine and experience what it means to be someone else. For instance, I can imagine what it is like to be a professor, by immersing my mind inside the mind of a professor and thinking like him. When we experience the structures of consciousness, we can project the consciousness to another organism and know what it feels like to be that organism. Structures of consciousness are characterized by subjective character, which is feeling what is like to be another organism.  The structures of conscious help with the understanding of Nagel’s phenomenological approach of what it like to be a bat by applying the subjective character, use of imagination and extrapolation of thoughts.

According to Nagel, human beings can use the subject character to know what it feels to be a bat. This involves imagining that you are hanging upside down and behaving like a bat. By use of subject character, the consciousness of being a bat becomes a reality a person can establish what it likes to be a bat. However, Nagel states that reductionism fails to address the relationship between the mind and body. Therefore, in as much as a person may try to understand what it is like to be a bat, the absence of the physical body hinders one from knowing exactly what is like to be a bat. For instance, I can say that I know what it is like to be Mary by use of subjective character whereby I think and act like Mary. However, the absence of the physical body hinders the establishment of the truth about what it is like to be Mary.

The flaws in Nagel’s argument is the view that different thoughts exist in different bodies and it becomes hard to know what it is like to be someone else. For instance, one may use the subject character to know what it is like to be a bat, but the bat does not know what it is like to be a person. Furthermore, the bat uses instincts, while human beings use thoughts. All in all, Nagel’s theory of phenomenology helps in understanding the behavior of human beings. For instance, by immersing one’s mind in the mind of another and imagining what he or she might be doing, it is possible to know what it is like to be someone else. Therefore, Nagel’s idea of subject character is based on imagination and extrapolation of thoughts to fill in the absence of physicality.


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