The 75-Year-Old Philosopher Causing a Ruckus in the Academy

Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard is a great writer of profiles. He just published a delightful–and delightfully long–piece entitled “The Heretic” on Thomas Nagel, the philosopher who has dared to challenge the naturalistic orthodoxy of the American academy.

Here’s a section:

Thomas Nagel may be the most famous philosopher in the United States—a bit like being the best power forward in the Lullaby League, but still. His paper “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” was recognized as a classic when it was published in 1974. Today it is a staple of undergraduate philosophy classes. His books range with a light touch over ethics and politics and the philosophy of mind. His papers are admired not only for their philosophical provocations but also for their rare (among modern philosophers) simplicity and stylistic clarity, bordering sometimes on literary grace. 

Nagel occupies an endowed chair at NYU as a University Professor, a rare and exalted position that frees him to teach whatever course he wants. Before coming to NYU he taught at Princeton for 15 years….For all this and more, Thomas Nagel is a prominent and heretofore respected member of the country’s intellectual elite. And such men are not supposed to write books with subtitles like the one he tacked onto Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.

Read the whole thing. Here, by the way, is another of Ferguson’s terrific profiles: this one is on Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio Journal (and formerly of NPR).

I love long-form journalism. I will refuse the ruinous march of excessively bullet-pointed, short-sentenced, 300-word-or-less journalism until the day I can no longer read it. It is a marvelous thing, this business of telling stories, and telling them at a length that fits the drama and complexity of human life.


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