Essay on Thomas Nagle, The possibility of Altruism

Submitted By letmeliv
Words: 1422
Pages: 6

Olivia Clark
Professor Hamawaki
Intermediate Ethics
December 6, 2013
An Explanation and Opinion of Nagel’s Altruistic Solution
Thomas Nagel is very concerned with presenting to us a concrete basis from which we can assert the existence of a justified hold on our ethical actions and sentiments toward other human beings and our actions pertaining to them. He specifically believes that this hold is a requirement of anything that demands certain ethical responses or actions out of us. This is why we see the word “inescapable” appear several times in the first pages of his book, “The Possibility of Altruism.” For Nagel, this basis can be covered by a form of practical reasonings he explicitly reveals to us as “prudence” and altruism," which will be further explained in the later parts of this paper. On page 18, Nagel writes, “the more central and unavoidable is the conception of oneself on which the possibility of moral motivation can be shown to depend, the closer we will have come to demonstrating that the demands of ethics are inescapable.” In the following paragraphs I will explain to you Nagel’s opinion on how we should view ourselves and our susceptibility to this, Nagel’s definition of and the importance given to inescapability, and finally my personal opinion on the matters at hand. First, I will attempt to explain the requisite viewpoint and position that Nagel suggests we assume or already assume in order for us to be susceptible to any type of ethical hold at all. On page 18, Nagel gives us a brief summary of his two principle ideas through a method of general interpretation. He further explains that these interpretations will neither be classified as motivational explanations or forms of justification for both of these cases call for a more simplistic formula or fundamental idea which would be superfluous to contemplate and almost contradictory in both cases. Prudence, as interpreted by Nagel is “connected with a conception of one’s present situation as merely a stage in a temporally extended life. It arises from the human capacity to view the present simultaneously as ‘now’ and as a particular time, tenselessly specifiable.” I believe this capacity can only be fully tapped into from a mind sensitive to the consistency and momentum of time along with the reality that everything that happens is perceived first in it’s first instance, the present, and then a second instance as an event on a timeline. Furthermore, the interpretation that Nagel uses for altruism states that it is “connected with the conception of oneself as merely one person among others. It arises from the capacity to view oneself simultaneously as ‘I’ and as someone--an impersonally specifiable individual. This principle requires a more personal viewpoint than that of prudence. It describes a human who takes in consideration his feelings and existence while also acknowledging that his or her existence is not outside the realm of everyone else’s meaning that he is observed by him and by the world. This, Nagel calls, the notion of being “one of many.” Both of these conceptions Nagel believes to be part of an a priori psychology that simply describes how our minds might or do work. Keep in mind, that he does not attempt to establish “necessary truths” about human beings by asserting these principles. He simply wants to show that we are susceptible to moral considerations which he feels stems from these considerations and that if we were not this way, our minds and personas would be completely different. These considerations presented above, Nagel believes, must have a significant enough hold on us to where we will make ourselves submissive to them. He uses the word “inescapable” in discussing this phenomena. To accurately convey Nagel’s definition of the term “inescapable” that he uses, we can look at a scenario in which something would be escapable. Let’s say for example, my mother tells me not to talk about people behind their backs and that I