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Bat or Batman?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 January 2009

David Pugmire
University of Southampton


Thomas Nagel claimed that subjectivity is what distinguishes those states known in the vernacular as conscious or as experiences. And he argued that subjectivity eludes reductivist theories of mind, which are obliged to ignore it and hence to fail. I shall be concerned here primarily with the formulation of the concept of subjectivity. Nagel tried to delineate subjectivity in a well known phrase: ‘an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something it is like to be that organism—something it is like for the organism’. Nagel offers to explain this condition of being host to conscious experience as the organism's having a point of view on the world, a point of view which is its own and nothing else's, however much or little the world as disclosed by it may agree with what is presented from other points of view.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 1989

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1 Nagel, Thomas, ‘What is it Like to be a Bat?’, and ‘Subjective and Objective’ in Mortal Questions (Cambridge University Press, 1979).Google Scholar

2 ‘What is it Like to be a Bat?’, ibid., 166.

3 Wollheim, Richard, The Thread of Life (Cambridge University Press, 1984), 46.Google Scholar

4 See, for instance, Wollheim, ibid. and McGinn, Colin, The Subjective View (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1983), 9Google Scholar, and not least Nagel, Thomas himself in his recent book, The View from Nowhere (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 15.Google Scholar

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6 Wollheim, ibid., 39.

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9 Wollheim, ibid., 46.

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