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Absurd in Thomas Nagel’s Philosophy

The topic of the absurd has been an ultimate ground for philosophical debates and discussions for many centuries. The main issue considered under this theme is the connection between human life and its absurdity. Nagel, in his work, investigates a concern about the inescapable absurdity of human lives and analysis the nature of this phenomenon. In this work, he justifies the fact that human life is full of the components of absurdity and reflects a positive attitude toward this position. His point is mainly based on the perception that everyone creates their reality and success by themselves. Moreover, in his view, self-consciousness and self-transcendence help make life meaningful, even if it is not. Life in Nagel’s view is inescapably absurd and meaningless on a large scale; however, the purpose in life and understanding of it could diminish the absurdity.

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Human lives are undoubtedly absurd, considering them at the Universal scale. Nagel highlights that in terms of million years in the Universe, human lives are so short and inconsiderable that they could be recognized as meaningless (717). This claim leads to the view that the inferior contribution of human-being in the Universe’s history makes them miserable and absurd considering time and space (Nagel 717). Nevertheless, the connection between humans’ minuteness and brevity that makes life meaningless is not evident at all (Nagel 717). Another point of view that justifies the absurdity of human lives in the sequence and order of our lives. According to Nagel, human mortality eliminates the sense of our actions during life, including studies, work, and money spent for different purposes (717). The main point is to analyze the final point, which usually leads nowhere (Nagel 717). Although, as stated by Nagel, even humans will be capable of expanding the scale of their actions, it still leaves them pointless (717). Therefore, in the ratio of the Universe, human life is insufficient and absurd regardless of the scale of their actions.

Being absurd by its nature, human life includes elements of the absurd in daily life. Nagel declares that the absurdity of ordinary life is highly related to the distinction between aspiration and reality (718). If humans realize the absurdity of the situation, they try to fix it by changing their aspirations or avoiding uncomfortable situations (Nagel 718). The absurdity of daily actions is closely related to individual ambitions, plans, and circumstances (Nagel 718). Here, we can observe the collision of the ideas connected with the issue, which influences the whole picture of the absurd in life. Human-being is required to apply specific energy and attention to the course of action they complete seriously (Nagel 718). Another thing is that humans always must prioritize the appropriate steps and derive the serious ones (Nagel 718). The absurd here is that even by conducting calculations, putting effort, and making plans, humans can not certainly predict the consequences of their actions (Nagel 719). According to Nagel, human lives are a full-time occupation, requiring enormous effort and obtaining uncertain results (720). Therefore, the efforts humans apply in all spheres of their life is pointless and absurd.

Even if the absurdity of life could not vanish, then adding purpose to life could diminish it. Nagel states that the absurdity of the idea appears due to insignificant and small events as well as individuals (720). For example, even larger enterprises are not considered significant until they commit something powerful (Nagel 721). Therefore, decreasing the level of absurdity in life requires purpose or role in notable scales. Nonetheless, as stated by Nagel, life still will be meaningless due to two entities: actions could still be insignificant compared with others; even steps make life meaningful for others, it is unclear how it appears to be significant for us (722). People should be part of something bigger to feel the significance and identify their purpose (Nagel 722). Therefore, to diminish the absurdity of life, humans should have a purpose or be part of something significant.

The absurdity of life could be a reasonable catalyzer for future actions. According to Nagel, understanding the absurdity of life helps to set standards and prioritize future efforts (722). Judgemental views and recognition of the absurd could also create alternative and overriding standards in the new context (Nagel 722). Nagel (725), in the example of a mouse, represents that the motives to stay alive are not absurd because capacities and conditions are available (725). The message here is that self-consciousness is a key to identifying the purpose and avoiding the absurd. Nagel mentions that the final and absolute way to escape is to commit suicide (726). However, before adopting such a radical solution, it is crucial to understand whether the absurdity in life presents a problem (Nagel 726). According to Nagel, our absurdity is not only our most advanced and intriguing characteristic but also a guarantee of our progress (726). Therefore, the role of absurdity in our life could be positive.

Changing an absurd situation due to criticism is a common reaction. Skepticism in accord with criticism appeared on this ground makes human analyze their position carefully. As claimed by Nagel, skepticism and criticism are mental reactions to evaluate the reality of the actions (723). To eliminate alternatives such as dreaming possibilities or hallucinations, it is necessary to doubt events and require justifications (Nagel 723). As people can realize that the course of action is actual, they start to critique to eliminate the possibility of the situation’s absurdity. Nagel points out the desire to change or attempt to. Nevertheless, Nagel mentions that sometimes criticism is pointless and that changing something becomes absurd (725). So, it is essential to properly analyze the criticism directed toward this issue and be skeptical. Eliminating the flaw is highly motivated by the idea of avoiding the absurdity of the situation (724). Sometimes the taken actions do not lead to the desired result; here, the absurdity of the case appears.

In conclusion, Nagel perfectly shows the absurdity of life and how it is inescapable. On the Universe scale, human life is absurd, and the final point is not defined. The ingredients of the absurd are present in human lives daily. The absurdity of the whole view is in the difference between aspiration and reality. Even the problem is inescapable; finding the purpose and being part of something considerable could diminish the problem. Suicide and self-consciousness are the only ways to eliminate the issue. However, understanding the absurdity could be a good catalyzer for future activities and realizations. Criticism directed toward absurdity should be carefully analyzed and recognized skeptically. Also, it is essential to remember that absurdity is a problem only when considered to be so. The absurd in human life is a complex issue with complicated solutions.

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Work Cited

Nagel, Thomas. “The Absurd.” The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 68, no. 20, 1971, pp. 716–727.

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