The Last Word / Edition 1by Thomas Nagel
Pub. Date: 11/01/2001
Publisher: Oxford University Press
If there is such a thing as reason, it has to be universal. Reason must reflect objective principles whose validity is independent of our point of view - principles that anyone with enough intelligence ought to be able to recognize as correct. But this universality of reason is what relativists and subjectivists deny in ever-increasing numbers. And such subjectivism… See more details below
If there is such a thing as reason, it has to be universal. Reason must reflect objective principles whose validity is independent of our point of view - principles that anyone with enough intelligence ought to be able to recognize as correct. But this universality of reason is what relativists and subjectivists deny in ever-increasing numbers. And such subjectivism is not just an inconsequential intellectual flourish or badge of theoretical chic. It is exploited to deflect argument and to belittle the pretensions of the arguments of others. The continuing spread of this relativistic way of thinking threatens to make public discourse increasingly difficult and unproductive. In The Last Word, Thomas Nagel, one of the most influential philosophers writing in English, presents a sustained defense of reason against the attacks of subjectivism, delivering systematic rebuttals of relativistic claims with respect to language, logic, science, and ethics. He shows that the last word in disputes about the objective validity of any form of thought must lie in some unqualified thoughts about how things are - thoughts that we cannot regard from outside as mere psychological dispositions. His work sets a new standard in the debate on this crucially important question and should generate intense interest both within and outside the philosophical community.
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Nagel argues that the claims of reason have a certain kind of ultimacy or absolute status. The main line of argument he advances is rather popular: attempts to undermine reason are self-defeating. There is also an ad hominem to the effect that most of those who are attracted to some sort of skepticism, relativism, holism, postmodernism, or anti-rationalism are mush minded muddle headed good for nothings. He rightfully deplores the epidemic of skepticism in ¿the weaker regions of culture¿ as ¿crude¿ and ¿vulgar,¿ and is irritated by ¿a growth in the already extreme intellectual laziness in contemporary culture and the collapse of serious argument throughout the lower reaches of the humanities and social sciences.¿ But the extensive span of the denunciation, which targets all those who call for any sort of restriction on the absolute claims of reason and science, seems odd coming from the author of _The View from Nowhere_. I read that book as an attack on the idea that either the objective or the subjective stance could claim any absolute status. Kant is especially targeted, although no notice is taken of contemporary Kant scholarship. In general, there is a great deal of denunciation in this book without attention to the detail of the writings of those the author opposes.