Philosophy Index

Thomas Nagel

Thomas Nagel (1937—) is an American philosopher and professor at New York University. He has made contributions to philosophy of mind, ethics and political philosophy.

Nagel was born into a Jewish family in Yugoslavia, but moved to the U.S. where he went to school. He studied at Cornell and Oxford, and completed a Ph.D. at Harvard under the supervision of John Rawls.

Nagel is perhaps most famous for his 1974 paper, “What Is it Like to Be a Bat?”. In it, Nagel argues that there is something fundamentally important about conciousness that is often overlooked — namely, that an organism has mental states and is conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism. A pure reduction of mental states to physical brain states is therefore incomplete — we must account for what it is like to be in mental states.

Selected Works

  • The Possibility of Altruism (1970)
  • What Is it Like to Be a Bat? (1974 Essay)
  • Equality and Partiality (1991)
  • The Last Word (1997)


Name: Thomas Nagel
Born: July 4, 1937
Degrees: B.A. (Cornell, 1958)
B.Phil. (Oxford, 1960)
Ph.D. (Harvard, 1963)
D.Litt. (Honuorary, Oxford, 1963)
Awards: Rolf Schock Prize (2008)
Balzan Prize (2008)