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What you are saying is that you could have chosen a peach instead of chocolate cake just then, as things actually were. You think you could have chosen a peach even if everything else had been exactly the same as it was up to the point when you in fact chose chocolate cake.

Thomas Nagel - What does it all mean? p.48

What did Nagel mean by saying "you could have chosen a peach even if everything else had been exactly the same as it was up to the point when you in fact chose chocolate cake"? Does "everything else had been exactly the same as it was" mean "remained unchanged"?

Does "up to the point" mean "until the time"?

Thanks

  • Nagel is effectively talking about going back in time (to exactly the moment when the decision was made), and imagining the possibility that a different decision could have been made. In which case the context within which that decision was made would by definition be "the same" as what "really" happened, since that's precisely the "thought experiment" he's proposing. – FumbleFingers May 27 '18 at 12:09
  • If I change the order of the words like this: "You think you could have chosen a peach even if everything else, up to the point when you in fact chose chocolate cake, had been exactly the same as it was." Will it keep its original meaning? – XVI May 27 '18 at 14:22
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    From my point of view, there is only one possible meaning, regardless of how it's expressed. Moving the adverbial clause up to the point when you in fact chose chocolate cake to before the relevant verb clause (had been exactly the same as it was) rather than after it makes no difference. And within that verb clause, you could delete as it was without affecting the meaning either. But really, the literal meaning of up to [that] point] is irrelevant to the context (which simply hypothesises going back in time to the "one and only" situation in the past). – FumbleFingers May 27 '18 at 17:21
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This creates a hypothetical scenario. If we were to go back in time - to "rewind" time like a video tape, to the point where the person chose chocolate cake - could a different outcome have occurred.

"Everything else had been exactly as it was" means that, in this hypothetical scenario, nothing is different from how it had been. The speaker is describing someone else's viewpoint as being that, were one to rewind time in that way, to be in an identical scenario, someone could make a different choice - essentially, that there is something about our making decisions that does not depend entirely on the circumstances around us. That our decisions are not determined precisely by the situation we are in.

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