Nagel, the absurd

The Absurd Thomas Nagel (1971), in his unique article, “ The Absurd”, talks about the absurdity of life. He has described how people feel when they confront the absurdity of life. He, at first, mentions the reasons people give why they feel that life is absurd, and then evaluates those arguments proving that there have to be much stronger arguments than what people generally give. Hence, he has put forward two perspectives that actually support the absurdity of life: (1) unavoidability of seriousness, and (2) inescapability of doubt. This paper explains these two points of view, and one objection to Nagel’s position.
Nagel’s first argument is that we lead our lives with such intense concern that we become unable to avoid seriousness. This unavoidability of seriousness adds to the absurdity of life. We always have to confront the discrepancy between our serious acts and the possibility of our acts coming true. We are so serious about our actions that any bend in the situation disturbs our minds. Nagel (1971, sec II, par. 7) states that human beings “ are prudent, they reflect, they weigh consequences, they ask whether what they are doing is worthwhile.” They have to weigh the choices and their decisions. This is what makes life all the more somber, and the seriousness cannot be avoided.
The second is the inescapability of doubt. When we step back to have a look at our lives and goals, we come to know how petty like ants our goals are, and how unimportant our struggle is. He states: “ humans have the special capacity to step back and survey themselves, and the lives to which they are committed, with that detached amazement which comes from watching an ant struggle up a heap of sand” (Nagel, 1971, sec II, par. 9). This mismatch of what we do and our looking deeply into it, or comparing it to what others are doing, creates absurdity. Yet, Nagel agrees that we stay engaged to life, no matter we recognize that life is absurd because our perceptions that life and its goals are arbitrary in comparison to what we are actually doing in our lives.
An objection to Nagel’s perspective is that: when we assess a situation and its outcomes, we do so by bringing into consideration some set of values and standards, which help us judge the situation, or determine whether it has been carried on in the right fashion. However, this cannot be applied while judging our lives. Stepping back to analyze our lives is like stepping into nothing, because there is no set of values and standards lying outside our lives, which could help to judge lives. One cannot step back to judge whether one has done the right thing, unless he encounters the outcomes, and corrects his actions for the future.
To conclude, Nagel’s two points of view explain why Nagel thinks that life is absurd. Life cannot avoid seriousness, and doubt cannot be escaped. These two factors make life absurd. However, stepping back to analyze life is the point that he should have cleared a bit more properly. A layman is not able to make a connection between the absurdity of life and his judgment of life by stepping back.
Nagel, T. (1971). The absurd. The Journal of Philosophy, 68(20), pp. 716-727. Retrieved September 25, 2012, from http://fege. narod. ru/librarium/nagel. htm