Prompted by our universal curiosity, we ask ourselves ‘What does it all mean?’ And, we routinely trek off in many directions, seeking possible answers.
Here’s a little book, What Does It All Mean?, that helps us plumb the depths of our questioning. Anyone who approaches the book with a ‘beginner’s mind’ will benefit greatly from its wisdom. The book is a lucid introduction to some of the key problems of philosophy, and it sets forth the central problems of philosophical inquiry in an easy to follow, conversational tone, coupled with a dose of humor.
A rich world of possibilities is available to us when we keep a ‘beginner’s mind’. It is when we are beginners that we are eager to learn, receptive, and open to possibilities. Even if we feel as though we’ve crossed the threshold and become advanced, with a ‘beginner’s mind’ we are still open to new insights, and to different, perhaps deeper, ways to appreciate even the basics.
Arguing that the best way to learn about philosophy is to think about its questions directly, nine core questions are posed: Is there really an external world? Are there other minds? How does the mind relate to the brain? Is there such a thing as free will? What is the nature of morality and justice? How do words manage to refer to things? How should one feel about death? What is the meaning of life? Following each question there is a short, engaging discussion.
True to the spirit of philosophical inquiry, answers to questions are left open-ended, allowing us to consider other solutions and encouraging us to think for ourselves.
Thomas Nagel is Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, where he has taught since 1980. His main areas of philosophical interest are philosophy of mind, political philosophy and ethics.
Nagel is well known for his critique of reductionist accounts of the mind, particularly in his essay “What Is it Like to Be a Bat?“, along with his contributions to deontological and liberal moral and political theory in The Possibility of Altruism (1970) and subsequent writings. Nagel continues his critique of reductionism in Mind and Cosmos (2012), in which he argues against a reductionist view, and specifically the neo-Darwinian view, of the emergence of consciousness.
Books by Thomas Nagel include:
- Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False
- Mortal Questions
- Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament: Essays 2002-2008
- The Last Word
- The Possibility of Altruism
- The View From Nowhere
- What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy