Thomas Nagel, "The Absurd"

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Transcript of Thomas Nagel, "The Absurd"

Thomas Nagel, Death (1979)

Thomas Nagel, The Absurd (1971)PHIL 102, Spring 2017UBCChristina Hendricks

Except images noted otherwise, this presentation is licensed CC-BY 4.0

Nagel: bad arguments for absurdity (1a)Nothing we do now will matter in a million years (716)

1 million yearsActions Now

Wont matterBut then: nothing that will be the case in a million years matters now (716)Doesnt matter now

Nagel: bad arguments for absurdity (1b)Nothing we do now will matter in a million years (716)

1 million yearsActions NowIf their mattering now is not enough ... how would it help if they mattered a million years from now? (716)Matter now but not in 1m years: current actions absurdMatter now and/or in 1m years: current actions not absurd??

Nagel: bad arguments for absurdity (2)

Would infinite duration or larger size make our lives less absurd?We are tiny in the universe in terms of time and space (717)Image of galaxy by NASA

What matters is absurdity nowAre our lives meaningful or absurd now, as we are? If lives have no meaning/ are absurd now, adding more years or size in universe wouldnt make our lives less absurd.

Life infinitely absurd ..................Life absurd

Nagel & Camus on absurdityCamus: a divorce, a confrontation between what humans want & what the world offers (7)

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Nagel & Camus on absurdityNagel: absurdity is a discrepancy between ... aspiration and reality (718)More specifically: a collision between two inescapable viewpoints in us (719)

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a collision within ourselves (722)

Two viewpoints on our lives


DetachmentFrom inside: we are seriously engaged in our lives, with effort, plans, goals; things have meaning (719)From outside: lives arbitrary b/c all meaning & purpose comes from internal perspectiveinternalexternal

Internal & external

Goals in lifeReasons justifying those goals (e.g., beliefs, values)

Detached from goals, reasons, beliefs, valuesThese are only meaningful to me if I take them seriously, from perspective inside my lifeinternalexternal

Collision of viewpointsWe need to take our lives seriously to live Need to hold seriously to our beliefs, values, goals...make plans and work towards them

Yet we can take a detached view and so not take our lives, beliefs, values, etc. seriously

Can these two be combined? How can we live with both?internalexternal

Irony & Humility

DetachmentSeriousnessWe return to our lives, as we must, but our seriousness is laced with irony (724).Live with humility: between complete detachment & blind self-importance (The View from Nowhere 222).