Ernest Nagel

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Nagel, Ernest (16 November 1901 - 22 September 1985)

An outspoken atheist and the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, Nagel was author of Logic Without Metaphysics (1956) and, with Morris Raphael Cohen, An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method (1934). In the former book, according to Anthony Flew, Nagel contends that (a) the familiar universe, sometimes called nature, is in truth all there is; and its manifest plurality is no sort of false front for any hidden or transcendental unit; and (b) “Organized matter” is primary “in the executive order of nature.” In short, Nagel’s naturalism admits no incorporeal, purely spiritual agents.

Nagel was, with Hook, one of the two philosophically most distinguished former pupils and lifelong admirers of John Dewey. He was editor of the Journal of Philosophy (1940–1956), of Philosophy of Science (1956–1959), and Journal of Symbolic Logic (1939–1945).

Dewey, Hook, and Nagel all were atheistic and, in philosophy, naturalists. Nagel preferred the labels “materialist” and ”contextual naturalist.” His naturalism, wrote H. S. Thayer in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Vol. 5), included “a place for imagination, liberal values, and human wisdom.”

He had been born in Prague in what then was the Austro-Hungarian Empire but emigrated to the United States at the age of 10. He received his B.S. from the City College of New York (CCNY) and his Ph. D. from Columbia University in 1930. Except for teaching a year at Rockefeller University, he spent his academic career at Columbia, where he became Chairman of the Philosophy Department.

Nagel was a Humanist Laureate in the Council for Secular Humanism’s International Academy of Humanism.

{CE; CL; EU, Antony Flew; SHD}