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When we say, "The car could have climbed to the top of the hill," we mean the car had enough power to reach the top of the hill if someone drove it there. We don't mean that on an occasion when it was parked at the bottom of the hill, the car could have just taken off and climbed to the top, instead of continuing to sit there. Some thing else would have had to happen differently first, like a person getting in and starting the motor. But when it comes to people, we seem to think that they can do various things they don't actually do, just like that, without anything else happening differently first. What does this mean?

Thomas Nagel - What does it all mean?

  1. What does "just like that" mean?
  2. But when it comes to people, we seem to think that they can do various things they don't actually do, just like that, without anything else happening differently first.

I don't understand what the author mean in the sentense above? Could you explain it for me?

Thanks

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Just like that means literally "in exactly that manner", where that refers to some previously described manner or method of doing something:

A: [detailed description of how to solve an equation]
B: But I did it just like that, and I came up with the wrong answer!

But the phrase also has a common extension, in which that is actually or (more often) implicitly accompanied by an abrupt gesture such as a finger snap which defines that as a "negligible period of time"—no more time than it takes to snap your fingers. Depending on the context, then, just like that may mean

  1. "Immediately, without hesitating" . . .

    I asked him to help me move and he came, just like that.

  2. "Unexpectedly, with no warning" . . .

    I asked him to help me move and just like that he punched me in the nose!

  3. "Without appropriate reflection or preparation, regardless of the circumstances or the result" . . .

    I asked him to help me move and just like that he started dragging my sofa out the door.

The meaning in your quotation is the third. In the context of the essay just like that really modifies We seem to think, not people can do things: it means "We seem to think that people can do things they don't do, but we don't stop to consider exactly what that implies about free will and causation."

  • Thanks! In this case, Are "they don't actually do", "they actually don't do", and "they don't do, actually" the same? – XVI May 26 '18 at 15:50
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    @XVI Yes, they all mean more or less the same thing, though the emphasis is a little different. I think in context "actually don't do" would be best, but the difference is pretty minor. – StoneyB May 26 '18 at 16:22
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It kinda means suddenly or in a snap of a finger or in this context, independently from the rest of his personality or life.

He means that if you want a person to do something differently in his life, you have to “drive” him to that change, you might need to make “something else happening differently first”, and those alterations will eventually lead to the originally required change. The part of him we wish to change won’t suddenly get independent from the rest of his personality and become different. The change won’t happen “just like that”.

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