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Mortal Questions

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  468 ratings  ·  32 reviews
Questions about our attitudes towards death, sexual behavior, social inequality, war and political power progress to more obviously philosophical problems regarding personal identity, consciousness, freedom and value.
Paperback, 213 pages
Published June 28th 1991 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1979)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  468 ratings  ·  32 reviews

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Jul 19, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Philosophy
Shelves: philosophy
Fourteen essays in this book tie together the question of how philosophy applies in everyday life. Nagel’s writing drags a bit in places, and not all the essays are of equal interest. The personal nature of the inquiry is the book's main draw and the best reason for reading it. The most helpful approach to this kind of book is to list its topics and give my ratings, as follows:


Death – A rather short discussion asking why death is thought of as such a bad event. ****

Nick Black
Jun 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
One of the most probing and worthwhile philosophic disquisitions of the twentieth century.
Hossein Gholamie
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thomas Nagel began with the most abstract issues and areas in philosophy to reach concrete issues: metaphysics-> epistemoligy,-> philosophy of mind-> Ethics-> political philosophy-> economics.
Thomas Nagel in all areas of philosophy: "metaphysics, epistemology, ethics", and some of the most important branches of philosophy: "philosophy, ethics, philosophy of law, political philosophy, philosophy of mind", has had a huge contribution.
He discusses the most abstract philos
Maggie Roessler
First time to my knowledge I've seen a philosopher argue that death is really bad and we should be scared of it. And it's a good point about the nature of goodness not being restricted to non-relational properties ascribable to a human at different times. Still, surprising that Nagel would fail to look into the huge variety of other reasons that philosophers have embraced the idea of death.

Which points to a crucial element of Nagel's style. He is arguing with the language of the peop
May 21, 2019 added it
Too hard for me! I understood chunks of it, but there was plenty that whizzed past me. Great topics though. Includes the famous “What is it like to be a bat” essay. I guess I need a “Thomas Nagel for Dummies” book.
Matthew Ting
Tried using this as a broad introduction to philosophy. Too dense / abstractly written for me to really get into. Now I get why everyone who read the New Yorker likes philosophy so much...

Maybe this is one I try again later in life when I'm a more sophisticated and wise guy
Feb 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title of Thomas Nagel’s Mortal Questions may appear to promise a set of inquiries with reachable termination points, but in fact the opposite is true. This collection of short essays explores a slew of multifaceted and often-insouble problems surrounding the nature of human society and experiential life that Nagel pondered during the 1970s. Nagel is nobly driven to confront issues that are “multiple, complex, often cloudy, and mixed up with many others,” and to plumb the intellectual depths of situat ...more
Jul 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: deep-thought
"Moral Luck" and "What is it like to be a bat?" are oft-cited works in other books i've read, which is why i initially bought this collection. I'm tempted to call them classic or canonical works in the field.

"Death", ironically(?) the first essay, was a crucial ingredient in Todd May's book on the same topic and with the same title, so i read it 3 times. It also influences my reaction to books such as Jason Shiga's Demon series of graphic novels.

"Subjective and Objective" closes the
Rob Koch
Sep 09, 2009 rated it liked it
This was really not my cup of tea. I was expecting it to be more interesting or perhaps relevant to questions that I've had on the subject that I've posed to myself. I would say in general that the book was too dry/technical. I'm the last person who would fault something for being excessive in this way, but somehow Thomas Nagel managed to achieve that criticism from me. It's also possible that this wasn't really meant to be a point of entry to his work or for people unfamiliar with this field of ...more
Jul 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite philosophy books, covering topics such as animal consciousness, panpsychism, death, value judgments, and others.
Nov 18, 2010 marked it as maybe-read
Recommended by Julia Galef on 10/24/10 Rationally Speaking podcast.
Eric Witchey
Thought provoking philosophical considerations. A bit of a slog to get through, but worth it -- especially if you have someone with whom to discuss the material.
Andrei Khrapavitski
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a second book by Thomas Nagel I've read, first being "Last Word," which I liked a lot and would recommend to anyone fallen under the influence of postmodern denial of objectivity. "Mortal Questions" didn't disappoint, too. I'd read some of the essays collected here previously and was familiar with some of Nagel's claims, but it was great to go back to these texts and learn firsthand about his philosophy. The interesting thing about this book is that many of the "mortal questions" Nagel p ...more
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
In Mortal Questions Nagel tackles many great philosophical issues, and he does it in a very concise and readable style.

This collection of essays from the eminent american philosopher Thomas Nagel is at times enthralling and profound, at other times (though not often) dull and uninteresting. Thankfully, a great majority of what is to be found within the pages of this book piqued my own interests, and reading through them felt like a worthwhile effort. In my opinion, What is it like to be a bat? was the mos
Sep 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I got introduced to “Moral questions” through Very Bad Wizards podcast, and Nagel’s discussions especially around absurdity, moral lucks & sexual perversion are really fascinating to me. But unfortunately, the language of the book, specially in the latest essays gets completely hard to understand. Isn’t this the author responsibility to make the content of the book more accessible to the readers?
Ivan Pretorius
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it
One of the relatively few contemporary philosophers who not only addresses important subjects of general intellectual interest (the fear of death, the attractions of sex, the influence of luck upon personality, etc.) but writes very intelligently about them.
David Jones
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Am influential book. A collection of (readable) essays that immediately became a must-read. It includes the landmark, 'What is it like to be a bat'.
Jon Rossetti
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Perfect for anyone looking for clear, concise philosophical arguments with some exploration of overlooked philosophical absurdities.
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book exploring various philosophical topics like consciousness, objectivity, and justice.
Tim Gorichanaz
May 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
An inspiring collection of essays on challenging topics.
Billie Pritchett
Mortal Questions by Thomas Nagel is a great, easily-readable collection of essays about topics that relate to what it means to be human. A few highlights: there's an essay on the fear of death, whether we should fear it, another essay on why life so often feels absurd, and another essay about where our values come from, and if there's any real system underlying our values. Great little collection.
Mahsa Nasiri
ترجمه ی بسیار بد.
Dec 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Five stars for the chapters "What is it like to be a bat?" and "Subjective and Objective" - clear and lively.
Aug 03, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: 1-kindle
Only What is it Like to Be A Bat?
Oct 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy, abandoned
Didn't get into it all.
- The Last Word (champions rationality) and Mortal Questions by Thomas Nagel's early work - philosopher. Clear writer.
Nov 16, 2015 rated it liked it
I really couldn't enjoy this book, there were quite a few ideas that I agree with, but mostly, there were just thoughts that the author decided to share
rated it it was amazing
Nov 06, 2007
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Thomas Nagel is an American philosopher, currently University Professor and Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, where he has taught since 1980. His main areas of philosophical interest are philosophy of mind, political philosophy and ethics. He is well-known for his critique of reductionist accounts of the mind in his essay "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?" (1974), and for his contribu ...more
“It is often remarked that nothing we do now will matter in a million years. But if that is true, then by the same token, nothing that will be the case in a million years matters now. In particular, it does not matter now that in million years nothing we do now will matter.” 10 likes
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