Thomas Nagel
Mind and Cosmos

Oxford University Press 2012

world of appearance - world of objective reality
84 The appearance of
reason and language
cognitive shift is an expansion of consciousness
natural teleology
Value realism

What is the faculty that enables us to escape from the world of appearance presented by our pre-reflexive innate dispositions, into the world of objective reality? And what, besides consciousness, do we have two adds to the biological story to make sense of such a faculty?

The distinctive thing about reasoning is that it connects us with the truth directly. Perception connects us with the truth only indirectly. When I see a tree, I see it because it is there, but not just because it is there. Perception is not a form of insight: I do not grasp the presence of the tree immediately, even though it may seem so prior to reflection. Rather I'm aware of it because the tree causes a mental effect in me in virtue of the character of my visual system, which we may suppose as been shaped by natural selection to react in this way to light reflected from physical objects. Having such a system, together with other perceptual and motivational dispositions, enables me to survive in the world

83 In ordinary perception, we are like mechanisms governed by a (roughly) truth preserving algorithm. But when we reason, we are like a mechanism that can see that the algorithm it follows is truth preserving.

Something has happened that has gotten our minds into immediate contact with the rational order of the world, or at least with the basic elements of that order, which can in turn be used to reach a great deal more. That enables us to process concepts that display the compatibility or incompatibility of particular beliefs with general hypotheses.

We have to start by regarding our pre-reflective impressions as a partial view of the world, but we are then able to use reason and imagination to construct candidates for a larger conception that can contain and account for that part. This applies in the domain of value as well as fact.

84 The appearance of reason and language in the course of biological history seems, from the point of view of available forms of explanation, something radically emergent - if, as I assume, it cannot be understood behaviouristically. Like consciousness, it presents problems of both constitutive and historical explanation. It appeared long after the emergence of conscious creatures, yet it also seems to be essentially a development of consciousness and ought to be understandable as part of that history.

85 The great cognitive shift is an expansion of consciousness from the perspectival form contained in the lives of particular creatures to an objective, world-encompassing form that exists both individually and intersubjectively.
It was originally a biological evolutionary process, and in our species is has become a collective cultural process as well. Each of our lives is a part of the lengthy process of the universe gradually waking up and becoming aware of itself.

This, then, is what the Theory of Everything has to explain: not only the emergence from a lifeless universe of reproducing organisms and their development by evolution to greater and greater functional complexity; not only the consciousness of some of those organisms and its central role in their lives; but also the development of consciousness into an instrument of transcendence that can grasp objective reality and objective value.

91 I am drawn to a fourth alternative, natural teleology, or teleological bias, as an account for the existence of the biological possibilities on which natural selection can operate. I believe that teleology is a naturalistic alternative that is distinct from all three of the other candidate explanations: chance, creationism, and directionless physical law. Teleology would have to be restrictive in what it makes likely, but without depending on intentions or motives. This would probably have to involve some conception of an increase in value through the expanded possibilities provided by the higher forms of organisation toward which nature tends: not just any outcome could qualify as telos. That would make valuable an explanatory end, but not one that is realised through the purposes or intentions of an agent. Teleology means that in addition to physical law of the familiar kind, there are other laws of nature that are "biased to work the marvellous".

92 Teleology would admit irreducible principles governing temporally extended development. The teleology I want to consider would be an explanation not only of the appearance of physical organisms but of the development of consciousness and ultimately of reason in those organisms.

116 Value begins from our desires and inclinations, which unnatural facts of animal and human psychology, and higher level value judgements on motivational elaboration is from this base, generated by experience, reflection, and culture.

Value realism must make sense of the fact that the biological evolutionary process and the physical and chemical history that preceded it have given rise to conscious creatures, to the real value that fills their lives and experiences, and ultimately to the self-conscious beings capable of judgement-sensitive attitudes who can respond to and be rationally motivated by their awareness of those values. The story includes huge quantities of pain as well as blood, so it does not lend itself to an optimistic teleological interpretation.

Nevertheless, the development of value and moral understanding, like the development of knowledge and reason and the development of consciousness that underlies both of those higher-order functions, forms part of what the general conception of the cosmos must explain. As I have said, the process seems to be one of the universe gradually waking up.

Boe: the universe waking up - Buddha, the awoken one

122 We must regard the appearance and evolution of life as something more than a history of the development of self-reproducing organisms, as it is in the Darwinian version. We recognise that evolution has given rise to multiple organisms that have a good, so that things can go well or badly for them. And that in some of those organisms there has appeared the additional capacity to aim consciously at their own good, and ultimately at what is good in itself.
From a realist perspective this cannot be merely an accidental side-effect of natural selection, and the teleological explanation satisfies this condition.
On a teleological account, the existence of value is not an accident, because it is part of the explanation of why there is such a thing is life, with all its possibilities of development and variation. In brief, value is not just an accidental side-effect of life; rather, there is life because life is a necessary condition of value.

(Compare Derek Parfit on why the universe exists. “Why Anything? Why This?”)