Thomas Nagel Biography

Thomas Nagel (born July 4, 1937) is an American philosopher, currently University 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.

Nagel is well known for his critique of reductionist accounts of the mind, particularly in his essay "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?" (1974), and for his contributions to deontological and liberal moral and political theory in The Possibility of Altruism (1970) and subsequent writings. Continuing his critique of reductionism, he is the author of Mind and Cosmos (2012), in which he argues against a reductionist view, and specifically the neo-Darwinian view, of the emergence of consciousness.

Nagel was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), to a Jewish family. He is the son of Carolyn (Baer) and Walter Nagel. He received a BA from Cornell University in 1958, a BPhil from the University of Oxford in 1960, and a PhD from Harvard University in 1963 under the supervision of John Rawls. Before settling in New York, Nagel taught briefly at the University of California, Berkeley (from 1963 to 1966) and at Princeton University (from 1966 to 1980), where he trained many well-known philosophers including Susan Wolf, Shelly Kagan, and Samuel Scheffler, who is now his colleague at NYU. In 2006, he was made a member of the American Philosophical Society.

Nagel is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, and has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2008, he was awarded a Rolf Schock Prize for his work in philosophy, the Balzan prize, and the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Oxford.