The Evolution of Nagel's Panpsychism

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The Evolution of Nagel's Panpsychism

Sam Coleman

Quote:Nagel’s 1979 article ‘Panpsychism’ is rightly credited with provoking the recent resurgence of interest in panpsychism, the thesis that in some sense mind exists throughout the natural world, after more than half a century of neglect. There is now a considerable and burgeoning literature on panpsychism and related positions, and
though Strawson’s 2006 target paper and volume has perhaps been a more proximal cause (see also Chalmers’ discussion of panpsychism in his 1996, and Seager 2006), in none of these cases does the reasoning depart very far from Nagel’s concise and powerful formulation. Thus Nagel is the true father of contemporary panpsychism.1

It is not so clear whether this offspring was ever desired in a wholehearted fashion, however. In his 1979 paper Nagel comes to the conclusion that panpsychism is no worse than any of the other ‘hopelessly unacceptable’ solutions to the problem of how minded creatures like us arise in a material world. And even in that paper there were signs that he was at least open to a similar, but apparently different, non-panpsychist, position. His
recent work (2000, 2012) seems to make this trajectory of thought even clearer: he now appears explicitly to endorse not panpsychism but neutral monism.

In this paper I will trace the path of Nagel’s thinking, from the reasons that led him to ambivalent embrace of panpsychism, to his current view. Having arrived at that view I will consider how to make best sense of it. Is it panpsychism, or not? And were the seeds of the view present all along?
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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