This magnificent analysis is accessible to a general reader who's already fascinated by philosophy and familiar with some of its perennial problems. The "view from nowhere" is the human attempt to get beyond a me-centred world-view, as a basis for all the components of civilization. In thinking, we have two instruments at our disposal: subjective and objective. They don't serve the same purpose. They may give different readings. Neither is fully reliable. Yet we are dependent on both. Reading this book one discovers that living as a human being is even more complicated than one already thought.
A clear and insightful book that attempts to tackle the human capacity to view the world both objectively and subjectively. One of the most engaging philosophy reads i am yet to encounter, which i would recommend to anyone suffering from the philosophical retoric of most other works.
The main thesis of this book is that objective/subjective perspectives create an unavoidable tension which affects virtually all aspects of philosophical enquiry. Where Nagel excells is in outlining the problems that such radically different perspectives can create; particularly within the fields of ethics and existentialism. Where he is considerably less affective (possibly to the point of being outright awful) is in providing a solution to these problems. In almost every area of philosophy - metaphysicals, politics, ethics, Nagel again and again fails to resolve any of the tension between these radically opposed perspectives. What is perhaps more frustrating however, is the obfuscating waffle routinely emloyed to fill the gap between the definition of the problem, and the solution that never comes.
You only have to read Nagel's famous "what is it like to be a bat?" to see what a severe problem of Nagel's this has always from the very beginning of his career. The descriptions of consciousness in that essay are amongst the most lucid descriptions ever commited to print. His last ditch attempt to provide a normative argument however, reprensents the very worst in pseudo-intellectual waffle. Sadly the exact same is true here - the descriptions of existential crisis and ethical dilemma are the best you are likely to encounter, but Nagel does not seem to have the intellectual capacity to provide a coherent precise solution to any of the problems he outlines. But since so much of the text is this book is cloaked in dense, impenetrable sophistry, many will probably come away thinking he's actually put some kind of argument forward. Look very closely though, and you'll see that the most he ever commits to is an anti-physicalist, anti-utitliarian stance. Beyond that, i believe its almost impossible to pin Nagel down on anything.
This is a great shame because the object/subjective dichotomy is the 'fly in the ointment' for just about any philosophical position going. Unlike Nagel however, most philosophers either do not seem to be aware of this problem, or do not want to accept that the problem exists in the first place due to the disastrous consequences it can have on a philosophical project once consciously acknowledged.
This is partly i think why the physicalist programme has proven so popular over the years. While we can never meaningfully define consciousness (the first person perspective) with third person tools, physicalists like Dennett at least provide a solution, the possiblity of philosophical and scientific progress. While I believe Nagel's rather than Dennett's position has the weight of evidence and reason on its side, there is never any chance of such a position being popular when philosophers like Nagel throw their hands up in the air whenever pushed to provide an alternative method to the brute accumulation of 3rd person facts.
Until someone comes along and attempts to do this (and Nagel certainly isnt) we are stuck with the prevailing philosophical dogma: 'neural events are identical with mental states'. Which while empricially unverifable, at least offers some sort of beacon of hope for those who want to get to the bottom of consciousness.
While Nagel in this book has more than competently illustrated the inadaquacies of philosophical atomism, he has as yet i believe, managed to provide to a coherent alternative solution.