What does it all mean: A Thomas Nagel Account on Philosphy

Published 27 Mar 2017

This Thomas Nagel comprehensive introduction on Philosophy on tackles the nine of the most common philosophical problems encountered from the past through the present times. Thomas Nagel is born in Belgrade, Serbia on July 4, 1937. He is a professor at York University and teaches Philosophy and Law. Nagel touches topics on perception, the mind and its conflict with the body, words, free will, righteousness, justice, death, and life. What he have right here are short, smooth, and uncomplicated explanations and theories. The book has more than one hundred pages of easy to read rational work.

Nagel imposed upon the readers a profound question on the first few chapters. How do we know anything? Nagel tries to reason with his readers the causes things are perceived as it is. The inside of our mind is the only thing that we can be sure of (Nagel 8). Everything is all based on our experiences and thoughts, and things we use our senses with. Outside of that, we can’t be sure. We are not sure that what we see really exists. How can we be sure that the things in front of us are real and not an illusion? How are we sure that our visual experiences is the external world we know? It’s possible that our mind invented this. Our mind is the only thing that exists. Our bodies and the people around us are just impressions; impressions that we don’t know for sure is really there.

Several points are established with this concept. Nagel established solipsism. This view tells us that there is no physical world at all. This is a lonely view, and a lot of people do not want to accept this. This simply means nothing exists except our minds. Everything else is an illusion, created by the mind itself. Our bodies, the people around us, and the rest of the things we see and feel, are not real.

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The next view positioned is skepticism. This view tells us that there may or may not be an external world. If there is one, it may or may not be how we are seeing it right now. And there’s no way for us to tell. This even taps on the fact that our experiences may or may not be real. We are not even sure that we just recently came into existence. There is doubt in everything we see. It can be real, but we can’t be so sure of it.

Another point established is verificationism. This states that the ideas we have are ideas of what we can observe. Things are real because we can see it. What we can see may not be right, but it can be corrected by another perception. This is what we all live for. Most of us settle on this belief. We see it, therefore we believe it.

Nagel also talks about the context of death. Its goodness or evilness depends upon its context. The first thing pointed out is that we cannot conceive our own non-existence or death without the impressions of our present world. We can’t imagine our disappearance from this world we know without the presence of it in our imagination. Whether we believe in heaven, hell, reincarnation, or simply becoming a ghost after death, we can just imagine ourselves transcending into that phase only because of the beliefs that all came to us because of what we see and feel. These are all associated to what we know. And as previously stated what if it is only our mind that really exists?

Nagel believes that death is neither good nor bad. It doesn’t have any value. Somebody who doesn’t exist at all cannot be benefited or harmed by it (Nagel 92). He mentioned that death could be bad because it could take away interesting and pleasant experiences from the mind. It can be good because it relieves the mind of the redundancy and boredom of life.

Plato viewed death as a good thing. He believes that those people who view death as something bad are mistaken. He states that death is the absence of consciousness. It is good because it migrate our soul to another phase, another world. Death could either be a journey or a dreamless sleep where in we will never wake up. Either way, he views it as a gain. If it is a journey, then in our pilgrim, we are all going to meet and see the judge of all the judges, the wisest of all wise. If it is a deep slumber, then we should rejoice because death is just one long sleep, free from worry and desires. (Jowett 37)

If Nagel established death as simply non-existence, what then becomes the meaning of our lives? Nagel points out that if we believe we exist, and this world is real, then something has to matter. There should be a point in doing what we do. In this current world we live in, we are naturally setting our sights higher. As such, our ultimate goal, the things we like to achieve, becomes the meaning of our lives. But why should it be? If our mind is the only thing we are sure of exists, then life becomes pointless. It won’t matter to be rich or poor. All’s not real anyway.

Nagel in here also touches on God as the ultimate reason of our lives. The explanation why we are all here is because of Him. God placed us here. As such, all other reasoning stops. God becomes the scapegoat of things unexplainable. Nobody will dare to ask the role of God or the reason he all placed us in here the first place. God would be the elucidation, period. But again, not everybody believes in God. And what if we do indeed ask: “Why did God place us here?” There won’t be an answer. And even if there is one, it won’t be acceptable to those who don’t regard supreme beings. And for the record, religious ideas are something the Nagel fails to fully understand.

Nagel states that the trick for life’s meaning is to just live for the moment. Accept life and its supposed perceived meaning. Deeper analysis may lead us off track. And with things considered, life may not only be meaningless, but absurd as well (Nagel 101). We are all living and striving in a world we can’t be sure exists.

Plato’s idealism and Christianity is comparable. Plato explains of the life we are to lead. Life is not devoid of meaning. The life that we should be leading is a life of knowledge, virtue, and ascetic self-discipline – if we are to achieve our goal. (Young 19)

It is regarded that Christianity is basically a version of Platonism. Although there is no complete identity between Platonism and Christianity, there is the same immortal, immaterial soul which makes the two ideas mesh together. So as far as Plato goes, there is a supreme being which is the be-all and the end-all of the unexplained theories.

Evidently, Nagel pursues a belief and reasoning somehow a bid special, compared with ancient philosophical thinkers. But his endeavor is well-established and well-stated he has merited his own grounds in believing such. The book is a very good introduction to modern philosophy and is good for those with a questioning mind. It will lead you to a phase of awareness with your current world.


  • Nagel, Thomas. What Does It All Mean? New York: Oxford University Press, 1987
  • Young, Julian. The Death of God and the Meaning of Life. New York: Routledge, 2003
  • Jowett, B. Plato: Studying Death. Elpenor.
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