Thomas Nagel

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Thomas Nagel (4 July 1937 - )

Nagel, a philosopher, lawyer, and educator who was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), came to the United States in 1939 and became a naturalized citizen in 1944.

He is the son of Carolyn (Baer) and Walter Nagel. In 1958 he married Doris Blum (divorced in 1973) and in 1979 Anne Hollander.

In 1958 he received his B.A. from Cornell University; in 1960 a Bachelor of Philosophy from Corpus Christi College, Oxford University in England; and his Ph. D. in 1963 from Harvard University.

Teaching and Visiting Appointments

His teaching has included being Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley 1963-6; Assistant Professor, Princeton University 1966-9; Associate Professor, Princeton University, 1969-72; Professor, Princeton University 1972-80; Professor of Philosophy, New York University 1980 to date; Chairman, New York University Philosophy Department, 1981-6; Professor of Philosophy and Law, New York University, 1986 to date; Fiorello LaGuardia Professor of Law, 2001-3; and University Professor, Fiorello LaGuardia Community College, 2002 to date.

His visiting appointments have included Rockefeller University, 1973-4; University of Pittsburgh 1976; Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 1977; University of the Witwatersrand, 1982; U.C.L.A., 1986-7; All Souls College, Oxford, 1990; U. C. Berkeley, 2004.

Lectures and Fellowships

Nagel has lectured widely, including the following: Tanner Lecturer, Stanford University, 1977; Tanner Lecturer, Oxford University, 1979; Howison Lecturer, U.C. Berkeley, 1987; Thalheimer Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, 1989; John Locke Lecturer, Oxford University, 1990; Hempel Lecturer, Princeton University, 1995; Whitehead Lecturer, Harvard University, 1995; Immanuel Kant Lecturer, Stanford University, 1995; Townsend Lecturer, U.C. Berkeley, 1999; AND Storrs Lecturer, Yale University, 2004.

Fellowships received include the following: Guggenheim Fellowship, 1966-7; NSF Fellowship, 1968-70; NEH Fellowship, 1978-9; and NEH Fellowship, 1984-5.

Also he is Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1980 to date; Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, 1988 to date; Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, 1992 to date; and Associate Editor, Philosophy & Public Affairs, 1970-82.


Nagel has written the following, all of which have been translated into several languages:

The Possibility of Altruism, Oxford University Press, 1970
Mortal Questions, Cambridge University Press, 1979
The View from Nowhere, Oxford University Press, 1986
What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy, Oxford University
Press, 1987
Equality and Partiality, Oxford University Press, 1991
Die Grenzen der Objektivität, (translated essays) Stuttgart, Reclam, 1991
Other Minds: Critical Essays, 1969-1994, Oxford University Press, 1995
The Last Word, Oxford University Press, 1997
The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice (with Liam Murphy), Oxford University Press, 2002
Concealment and Exposure and Other Essays, Oxford University Press, 2002


Nagel is often quoted for an essay that was published in The Philosophical Review, "What is it like to be a bat?" In it, he poses the mind-body problem and discusses its ramifications in philosophy. The question, which originally was posed by Timothy L. S. Sprigge, leads to Nagel's view that the subjective aspect of the mind may not ever be sufficiently accounted for by the objective methods of reductionistic science, that "[i]f] we acknowledge that a physical theory of mind must account for the subjective character of experience, we must admit that no presently available conception gives us a clue how this could done." Further, "it seems unlikely that any physical theory of mind can be contemplated until more thought has been given to the general problem of subjective and objective." (p. 405)

Upon announcing the Mellon Foundation's Distinguished Achievement Award in 2005, an award that will total up to $1,500,000 for New York University over three years, the Foundation wrote that Nagel "has shown how careful philosophical thought can contribute to the consideration of important public issues."

Nagel's areas of specialization include political philosophy, ethics, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind.

A retired philosophy professor, Eric Walther of the C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University in New York State, has suggested that his choice of a book for those who first become interested in philosophy is Nagel's What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy.

Dr. Nagel lives near the university campus in New York City in the same building where Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt once lived.