Thomas Nagel What Is It Like To Be A Bat Essay

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In Thomas Nagel’s paper— “What Is It Like to Be a Bat”— the inconceivability of physicalism as “a position we cannot understand” is born out of a discussion of the mind-body problem, and in particular, a discussion of objective and subjective experiences. Rather than positioning physicalism as false, Nagel maintains that physicalism is that which is presently incomprehensible because of the “subjective character of experience”— the conscious experience— which not only clouds our understanding of what it is like to be a bat, or anything outside of ourselves, but suggests physical descriptions of conscious states are inadequate to understanding the subjective (Nagel 436). Nagel posits that every organism has a subjective experience associated …show more content…
However, as Nagel argues, how can we know what the “is” and the “are” mean? How can we understand or even being to think about the mental or the subjective without trying to translate it in terms familiar to us, and thereby in terms that may change its meaning. By trying to think of or understand the mental, the subjective experience of another, we are making “reductions” of those experiences— introducing a greater level of objectivity to a subjective experience in order to understand it. Here, Nagel is highlighting the shortcomings of linguistic expression in being able to translate in words, with 100 percent accuracy, a subjective experience. After all, there is a “general human weakness for explanations of what is incomprehensible in terms suited for what is familiar and well understood, though entirely different” (Nagel 435). Hence, it would only follow that because we cannot know whether we are accurately expressing the mental, subjective experiences of another in terms that preserve the truth of those experiences, it would be difficult to produce concrete conclusions regarding the mental. For Nagel, he alludes to this when he writes “any shift to greater objectivity— that is, less attachment to a specific viewpoint” that is made when trying to capture mental states in physical, objective terms “does not take us nearer to the real nature of the phenomenon: it takes us farther away from it” (Nagel 444-445). Moreover, Nagel writes that if physicalism is to be proved, phenomenological features or mental states must be given physical descriptions. Yet in keeping with the subjective character of experience— which associates subjective phenomena with a single point of view—

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