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For advanced students: Thomas Nagel's 'physical conception of objectivity'

Subconsciously, we are so convinced by science, that most of the times it seems as though science arises naturally from our very bodies. Thomas Nagel has given a good account of the way this takes place in our mind. He calls this the “physical conception of objectivity” (14). I have altered the form, though not the content of his account:  

  1. The first step is to see that our perceptions are caused by the action of things on us, through their effects on our bodies, which are themselves part of the physical world.
  2. The next step is to realize that since the same physical properties that cause perceptions in us through our bodies also produce different effects on other physical things and can exist without causing any perceptions at all, their true nature must be detachable from their perceptual appearance and need not resemble it.
  3. The third step is to try to form a conception of that true nature independent of its appearance either to us or to other types of perceivers. This means not only not thinking of the physical world from our own point of view, but not thinking of it from a more general human perceptual point of view either: not thinking of how it looks, feels, smells, tastes or sounds. These secondary qualities then drop out of our picture of the external world, and the underlying primary qualities such as shape, size, weight, and motion are thought of structurally. (Nagel 1986: 14)

work cited

Nagel, Thomas. The View from Nowhere. Oxford UP: Oxford, 1986.

daniel.candel@uah.es ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann