A brief aside in which a contemporary philosopher admits of complexity among humans as social animals and implies (later on, more specifically illustrates) the challenges that individual consciousnesses create in resolving conflicts, or even in making individual decisions as to what is “right.” But what a thrilling capacity, if frustrating to theorists, our multiplicity is:
Human beings are subject to moral and other motivational claims of very different kinds. This is because they are complex creatures who can view the world from many different perspectives–individual, relational, impersonal, idea, etc.–and each perspective presents a different set of claims…The capacity to view the world simultaneously from the point of view of one’s relations to others, from the point of view of one’s life extended through time, from the point of view of everyone at once, and finally from the detached viewpoint often describes as sub specie aeternis is one of the marks of humanity. This complex capacity is an obstacle to simplification.
–Thos. Nagel, “The Fragmentation of Value”
Yes, an obstacle to simplification–but juicy and interesting, which clearly Nagel rather relishes. Viva complexity!
For a philosophical discussion particularly pertinent to the US presidential campaign this year, see his “Ruthlessness in Public Life.” Both essays are chapters in Mortal Questions (1979).