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Customer Review

on 26 March 2013
I read Nagel's book with a growing sense of relief that finally an eminent philosopher has had the courage and self-belief to question the oppressive orthodoxy of academic biology,an orthodoxy sedulously fostered by a sycophantic press and swallowed by largely uncritical laypersons. This orthodoxy, call it 'naturalism' or 'materialism' or 'materialistic determinism' or whatever, has had its day as the only legitimate underpinning of scientific investigation, physics has seen to that; and Nagel gives a further sheaf of cogent reasons why this is so. These all turn on the universal human experience of consciousness and the simple point Nagel makes is this: if ordinary intuitions concerning conscious awareness, morality, intentionality and the like are at variance with the scientific ideology of materialism with its suggestion that 'in reality' we are simply mindless robots composed of insensate material particles, then what precisely makes it an obligation to bow to this consensus? There is absolutely no reason to believe that our ordinary intuitions concerning mind and its properties are in error; and if materialism cannot handle mind, too bad for materialism. The philosophy of materialism is, as philosophy, a dispiriting dead-end and anyone attempting to live by its conception of 'reality' (no-one does!) would be a psychopath. As a heuristic set of assumptions, on the other hand, it has been incredibly successful and enriching,for without it we would not have the technology to which we are all addicted. So what is the issue? The issue is one of confusion. It is the confused belief that the self-limiting heuristic assumptions of physical science constitute an exhaustive account of the nature of reality as such. They don't. This confusion is the principal reason why the oppressive orthodoxy of academic science - particularly academic biology - is both an orthodoxy and oppressive. As an account of reality, materialism is patently misguided (thanks, Nagel, for daring to point this out) so it can only be defended by fundamentalist believers - notably the crypto-religious Ayatollahs of Darwinian orthodoxy such as Coyne, Dawkins, Pinker et al. - with all the traditional weapons of the despot. So Nagel is to be commended for taking on this pack of dogmatists. It's time scientific investigation was freed to consider those aspects of our existence that mean most to us without the prejudice of materialism. I'm very attached to my mind and happy now to be allowed to consider it in its own right rather than being ordered to believe the sort of nonsense peddled by the likes of Dennett, to the effect that consciousness is the delusion entertained by an entity that does not exist (see something wrong with that?).
Unfortunately, Nagel does not do a good job of suggesting an alternative framework for further advance beyond materialism. His suggestion that a kind of natural teleology could do the trick is not convincing because it's exceedingly difficult to conceive of a goal to the natural world and to the processes of evolution without positing some sort of intelligence to set that goal. Perhaps positing just that will be the next step, despite the teeth-grinding that such a step would provoke in the ranks of the neo-Darwinians.
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