Vince Imbat

What Does It All Mean? — Nagel (Book summary)

Feb 11, 2018

In What Does It All Mean? Thomas Nagel explores nine questions that philosophers have been trying to answer for thousands of years. Nagel believes that engaging with these questions directly is the best way to start a study of philosophy. He introduces the beginning philosopher to the questions and the most common arguments about them. Within his discussion, Nagel also inserts his own stand on the problems but cautions the reader not to rely on his conclusions. Instead, he repeatedly encourages the reader to think through the questions using her own reasoning.

# Chapter One: Introduction

Chapter Summary: Philosophy is best studied by engaging with the philosophical questions first before anything else.

# Chapter Two: How Do We Know Anything?

Chapter Summary: To solve the problem of how you know anything, ponder on (1) whether there is really a physical world outside your mind or if your mind is the only thing that exists, and (2) consider whether or not it is all right to go on believing on an external world even if it does not exist.

# Chapter Three: Other Minds

Chapter Summary: To solve the problem of whether or not other minds exist, (1) explore what you can really know beyond the contents of your mind, and (2) consider the possibility that there might be much less or much more conscious life than you assume.

# Chapter Four: The Mind-Body Problem

Chapter Summary: There seem to be two states happening within a person: mental states and physical states. How these states interact and whether or not they are mutually exclusive is a problem that has bothered philosophers for thousands of years.

# Chapter Five: The Meaning of Words

Chapter Summary: Words allow us to understand the universe, communicate with each other, and invent things. But it is a mystery how words have this incredible power.

# Chapter Six: Free Will

Chapter Summary: To solve the problem of whether or not free will exists, (1) explain what you mean when you say you could have done something other than what you did, and (2) explain what you and the world would have to be like for this to be true.

# Chapter Seven: Right and Wrong

Chapter Summary: The biggest problem in ethics and morality is whether or not there is a universal standard for them. Given that humans act according to their motives and that motives are innumerable, a single standard for ethical behavior seems farfetched.

# Chapter Eight: Justice

Chapter Summary: To tackle the problem of inequality and justice, (1) identify which causes of inequalities are morally wrong, and (2) determine which methods of interfering with these inequalities are morally right.

# Chapter Nine: Death

Chapter Summary: Two important philosophical questions concerning death are: (1) “What happens when we die?” and (2) “Is dying a bad thing or a good thing?”

# Chapter Ten: The Meaning of Life

Chapter Summary: For one’s life to have meaning, it has to be part of something bigger than itself. But to follow this line of reasoning could lead to the conclusion that life is pointless after all.