Quomodo sensus suos sentit vespertilio?

That’s the very handy expression, “what is it like to be a bat?”, in Latin, and it’s also the opening line of the laudatio of Professor Thomas Nagel on the occasion of Oxford giving him an honorary degree earlier this week. The full text is here, or go here for Emma Kirkby.

9 thoughts on “Quomodo sensus suos sentit vespertilio?”

  1. Is she still doing that show where the bloke plays all sorts of obsolescent trumpets? I saw it Jesmond years ago, tremendous entertainment.

  2. Thomas Nagel. A man who i disagree with about everything of his in philosophy that i have read, yet find to be one of the most engaging and thought-provoking writers i have come across.

    Only Robert Nozick comes close on the “i think you’re wrong but i don’t mind because you are so good at being (in my opinion) wrong and knowing exactly why I think you are wrong is very important” scale.

  3. I wouldn’t say “what it is like to be a …” is a ‘handy’ expression. It is meant as a way of explicating what ‘consciousness’ is, but it is quite unclear whether it does this. Presumably there is something it is like to be a millionaire, or a great baseball player, but these expressions do not refer to the kinds of consciousnesses possessed by millionaires or ball-players (which I assume are not relevantly different from my own).

    This is not to say that Nagel’s essay is not great, as it is that.

  4. Is it not a bit odd that the citation talks exclusively about his work on the philosophy of mind, and says nothing at all about his moral and political philosophy?

  5. Probably means that the public orator chatted to a philosopher of mind rather than a moral & political philosopher before composing his piece. But if you’d like to say something about Nagel’s political philosophy in Latin, Dan, you can have unlimited space at the Stoa.

  6. My goodness. Out of sheer boredom I found myself reading through the other public orations on that page. If American academic ceremonies were this funny, I’d attend them every year. E.g.:

    THE PUBLIC ORATOR: Honoratissime Domine Cancellarie, licetne Anglice loqui?


    THE PUBLIC ORATOR: That, sir, is a plain answer to a plain question. It reminds us that it is now a few years since you withdrew from the front line of politics.

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