Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Cosmic Predisposition

This entry is a brief comment on a review of this book:

[Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly Wrong • By Thomas Nagel • Oxford University Press, 2012 • x + 130 pages] 

A review article, which brought it to my attention, is found here:

Moral Realism vs. Evolutionary Biology?

Mises Daily: Thursday, September 20, 2012 by David Gordon

If have read much philosophy you have come across the name Thomas Nagel.  I haven’t read the book, but I am somewhat familiar with Nagel’s work  Nagel is known for rejecting moral relativism during times when it was almost unquestioned in academic philosophical circles.  (I will never forget, just from the mental impact of the title, Nagel’s essay, “What is it like to be a bat?” which we once read in a philosophy of mind course.  It’s an amusing title, but it is Nagel at work opposing reductionism in another area.)

While Nagel doesn’t exactly think there is a moral reality ‘out there’ which is the proper basis of our moral judgments, he does think that moral reasons can’t be reduced (thus, ‘reductionism’) to something else.  Examples of ‘something else’ would be things like personal preference, social traditions, and the like.

Nagel thinks all, or at least most, versions of moral realism would be incompatible with Darwinism.  The usual approach is that since Darwinism must be true, moral realism must be false.  Nagel turns that around.  He contends that since many important considerations point to the truth of moral realism, we need to re-think our acceptance of Darwinism.

At this point I am right there with Nagel, so to speak.  So which way should we go given that Darwinism is under question?  As the reviewer puts it, “One alternative to the Darwinian view Nagel finds untrue to the moral facts is theism, but to this he is temperamentally averse. He prefers what he calls a teleological view.”

I wish I had a copy of the book to see what Nagel says about being “temperamentally adverse” to theism.  Whatever that means, here is Nagel’s current conclusion about all this as quoted in the book review:

But even though natural selection partly determines the details of the forms of life and consciousness that exist, and the relations among them, the existence of the genetic material and the possible forms it makes available for selection have to be explained in some other way. The teleological hypothesis is that these things may be determined not merely by value-free chemistry and physics but also by something else, namely a cosmic predisposition to the formation of life, consciousness, and the value that is inseparable from them. (p. 123)

So Nagel is temperamentally adverse to theism, and is then left with “a cosmic predisposition to the formation of life, consciousness, and the value that is inseparable from them.”

I’m sure Thomas Nagel is a much sharper philosophical cookie than am I, but it seems to me that, whatever he sees as the problems with theism, there are at least as many problems with a “cosmic predisposition.”  One starts to ask questions like, “What accounts for this cosmic predisposition?”  My best guess is that Nagel would say, “It’s just there.”

Nagel seems to be typical of the modern mind.  The rejection of theism is a temperamental adversity.  That seems to me another way of saying, “I’m just not comfortable with it; I just don’t like it.”  I’m sure many of us theists could come up with some good guesses as to why modern people just don’t like theism – three or four of which preachers might turn into sermons.

But this whole thing I found interesting enough to stop make these observations.

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