From ‘The Incompleteness of Objective Reality’, by Thomas Nagel

“We must think of the mind as a phenomenon to which the human case is not necessarily central, even though our minds are at the centre of the world. This idea can be betrayed if we turn objective comprehensibility into a new standard of reality. That is an error because the fact that reality extends beyond what is available to our original perspective does not mean that all of it is available to some transcendent perspective that we can reach from here. But so long as we avoid this error, it is proper to be motivated by the hope of extending our objective understanding to as much of life and the world as we can.
By a general concept of mind I don’t mean an anthropocentric concept which conceives all minds on analogy with our own. I mean a concept under which we ourselves fall as instances – without any implication that we are the central instances […] I want to think of mind as a general feature of the world. […] The necessary incompleteness of an objective concept of mind seems fairly clear.


One might say that the wider problem of mental objectivity is an analogue at the level of mental types to the problem of other minds for individuals: not, “How can I conceive of minds other than my own?” but, “How can we conceive of minds subjectively incommensurable with our own?” In both cases we must conceive of ourselves as instances of something more general in order to place ourselves in a centerless world.
The interesting problem of other minds is not the epistemological problem, how I can know that other people are not zombies. It is the conceptual problem, how I can understand the attribution of mental states to others. And this in turn is really the problem, how I can conceive of my own mind as merely one of many examples of mental phenomena contained in the world.


The issue is whether there can be a general concept of experience that extends far beyond our own or anything like it. Even if there can, we may be able to grasp it only in the abstract, as we are presumably unable to grasp now concepts of objective physical reality which will be developed five centuries hence. But the possibility that there is such a concept would be sufficient motive for trying to form it. It is only if we are convinced in advance that the thing makes no sense that we can be justified in setting the limits of objectivity with regard to the mind so close to our own ordinary viewpoint.


So far as I can see the only reason for accepting such limits would be a Wittgensteinian one – namely, that such an extension or attempted generalization of the concept of mind takes us away from the conditions that make the concept meaningful.”


From ‘The Incompleteness of Objective Reality’, by Thomas Nagel

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