The View from Nowhere
Final Exam – PHI 101
For the entirety of history philosophy has struggled with the balance of exploring human experience or simply detaching from it to analyze reality from a separate standpoint. In his book The View from Nowhere, Thomas Nagel explores these two points of view in philosophy, collectively known as objective and subjective points of view. Nagel introduces the conflict of attempting to look at the world objectively despite an inevitable subjective lens that is present in every individual regardless the effort to abolish it. In the opening words of his argument he explains that the conflict lies in learning “how to combine the perspective of a particular person inside the world with an objective view of that same world, the person and his viewpoint included” (Nagel 3). This problem arises because trying to meet a “unified conception of life” (Nagel 3) can lead to extreme detachment from reality or, on the other hand, complete disregard to worldwide views on morality, autonomy, suffering, life and death. Modern philosopher Julian Marias has a theory that explains that philosophy must be rooted in the individual’s reality, in his book about Marias’s philosophy Raley explains “that if phenomenology is honest with itself, it must acknowledge that the reality of life precedes one’s thought about it, and this means that the terms of philosophy must be inverted. In other words, I live and therefore think, act, love, suffer, enjoy, etc., and all realities occur to me as I live” (Raley 27). This reversal heavily emphasizes the importance of subjective thought in the process of making philosophical claims. However, the counterpart is that which Nagel introduces on page 5 “I shall offer a defense and also a critique of objectivity. Both are necessary in the present intellectual climate, for objectivity is both underrated and overrated … It is underrated by those who don’t regard it as a method of understanding the world as it is in itself” (Nagel 5). So ultimately Nagel looks to explore this clash or rather a way for these two opposing views to work together to build our logical construction of the world. Because the truth is that philosophy is no more than an encounter with the human limitation: which is the impossibility to understand the reality completely. As Nagel concludes “the fundamental idea behind both the validity and the limits of objectivity is that we are small creatures in a big world of which we only have partial understanding…but we can raise our understanding to a new level only if we examine the relation between the world and ourselves” (Nagel 5). Grounding from our own reality and stepping back to look at the larger picture of what constitutes that reality of which we find ourselves immersed in. And in the same way he explores this balance with different issues of humanity, including what Nagel calls the art of “living right and living well” (Nagel 189). 2. The Subjective and Objective Tension of Learning to Live Right and Well Nagel’s point of the tension between subjective and objective can’t be thoroughly understood if it is not directly applied to some dimension of the human life. In this paper we will look specifically at the tension that exists in the subjective and objective views of morality and what constitutes a right life and what constitutes a life lived well, if even such a claim can be made. When one states that a life can be lived right then one immediately is looking at a life which can be lived wrong. So objectively what does this wrong life entail? And subjectively what does this wrong life entail? This is the question that Nagel looks to tackle in this section, because ultimately the problem lies in identifying “substantial elements of personal objectivity” while maintaining the liberty of each individual to lead their own life (Nagel 189). The tension in this section lies in the myriad of contexts and cultures which...
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