Mind and Cosmos

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Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False
Mind and Cosmos cover.JPG
AuthorThomas Nagel
CountryUnited States
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication date
September 2012
Media typePrint

Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False is a 2012 book by the philosopher Thomas Nagel.


Nagel argues that the materialist version of evolutionary biology is unable to account for the existence of mind and consciousness, and is therefore at best incomplete. He writes that mind is a basic aspect of nature, and that any philosophy of nature that cannot account for it is fundamentally misguided.[1] He argues that the standard physico-chemical reductionist account of the emergence of life – that it emerged from a series of accidents, acted upon by the mechanism of natural selection – flies in the face of common sense.[2]

Nagel's position is that principles of an entirely different kind may account for the emergence of life, and in particular conscious life, and that those principles may be teleological, rather than materialist or mechanistic. He stresses that his argument is not a religious one (he is an atheist), and that it is not based on the theory of intelligent design (ID), though he also writes that ID proponents such as Michael Behe, Stephen C. Meyer, and David Berlinski do not deserve the scorn with which their ideas have been met by the overwhelming majority of the scientific establishment.[3]


The book generated significant criticism, including from Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett and Elliott Sober.[4][5] Michael Chorost wrote that Nagel raised valid criticisms but did not sufficiently engage with the large – though not dominant – body of scientific literature related to natural teleology. Chorost also suggests the book would have received less criticism had Nagel not endorsed criticisms raised by proponents of intelligent design, despite Nagel's not having endorsed intelligent design as a solution.[4]

Physicist Sean M. Carroll negatively reviewed the book concluding "he advocates overthrowing things that are precisely defined, extremely robust, and impressively well-tested (the known laws of physics, natural selection) on the basis of ideas that are rather vague and much less well-supported (a conviction that consciousness can’t be explained physically, a demand for intelligibility, moral realism)."[6]


  1. ^ For the argument that mind is a basic aspect of nature, see Nagel 2012, p. 16ff.
  2. ^ Nagel 2012, pp. 5–6.
  3. ^ Nagel 2012, p. 10.
  4. ^ a b Chorost, Michael. "Where Thomas Nagel Went Wrong". The Chronicle Review. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
  5. ^ Sober, Elliot. (2012). "Remarkable Facts: Ending Science as We Know It". Boston Review. Retrieved July 1, 2018.
  6. ^ "Mind and Cosmos". Retrieved July 1, 2018.

Works cited[edit]

  • Nagel, Thomas (2012). Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-991975-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links[edit]