Friday, 30 April 2010

Evaluate the view that life is absurd by contrasting the views of Camus and Nagel.

I've had one hours sleep, I have literally just finished this, I have one more to do, dear god help my ailing body as it tries desperately to shut me down from the inside haha.
I hope you enjoy this :) two very interesting takes on an idea I consider very important in Life. Written for my life & existence module

I apologise for the many grammar mistakes, I really cant be arsed to correct them, you get the picture

In Albert Camus and Thomas Nagel we have two very profound but piercing insights into the very heart of existence. Both take up their swords from the point of view called ‘The Absurd' (which for the purpose of this essay, will be reduced to ‘TA’ from now onwards) but the two notions contrast quite differently, and it is those differences which I will be pulling apart and expounding.

In Camus, we have a very brilliant and romantic version of ‘TA’ which featured heavily in one way or another in many or his works. In ‘The Myth Of Sisyphus’ this starts out from the underlying question in the essay of whether or not we should commit suicide, this Camus tells us is “the one but truly philosophical problem” because it represents that final resignation from the situation that you have encountered, it is a logic untoward death and the point where reason turns upon itself in a cannibalistic fashion.
Camus removes God from the situation from the start, he does not negate his existence as he says he cannot be sure, but defiantly prounces that “we can not! must not believe in God!” as “life would be lived all the better if it had no meaning” and to involve God would be, as we all know, to transpose determinism and a whole bunch of other life-devaluating circumstances from outside, onto the situation.
‘TA’ to Camus has it’s birth (amongst other things) in “the human need for meaning and the unreasonable silence of the world” but not in either by itself “but rather in their presence together” this situation is helplessly irreconcilable, there is nothing we can do to change it as we are filled with a future devoid of any eternal hope and a past full of the regret filled nostalgias of the time we spent in Eden, to which we can never return. So we are left to wander, the most dramatic, enigmatic and lost of all the creatures upon this rock. But Camus will argue that if we turn the religious belief that gives life a full meaning after death inwards and direct it to ourselves then the extension of a Christian heaven becomes extension of life through life itself. Glorify your existence through experience, in that endless expanse that comes from recognizing a beautiful and fleeting world around you, “man exchanges his divinity for happiness”.

Camus talks wonderfully poetically of breaking the chain of deadly daily repetition and gesture with use of a constant awareness of 'TA' and revolting against its situation with all your might through artistic (in any form) creation. The Absurd Man must drain all the beauty from experiences and then move on to the next, what matters is "not the best living, but the most living". You must never turn away from 'TA' for then you will get sucked back into daily routine, and be lost amongst the rest.

The notion of revolt is a key theme to Camus, we must accept our situation not with a shying away, but with a fierce and complete reaction. We must create experiences from the pure flame of life and not be interested in the herd. We must gaze long into the abyss only to come back with it's madness glittering in our eyes and a sardonic laughter upon our lips.
Suicide to Camus is thus the extreme end of acceptance in the opposite direction and a road we should not consider. He imagines a point where Sisyphus, looking at his stone rolling uncontrollably back down the bottom of the hill is momentarily free as he recognizes that his eternity will be spend rolling the stone up the hill, only for it to roll back down. His awareness is his freedom as it is ours.

Nagels argument for ‘TA' is admittedly less romantic than Camus’ by a long way, but there is something more realistic and subtely optimistic about it in this sense.
Nagel starts by telling us that people can never quite vocalize why they think life is absurd, and do so by way of some shakey examples which Nagel refutes, e.g. to the idea that all our justifications are meaningless and endless, he responds by showing us that this is not a problem and that some justifications for things at some point need to stop, you do not question yourself when you are taking aspirin he points out, you just realize you have a pain in your head, and aim at the right solution to stop it. He then moves on the what he thinks is the real reason life is absurd, he writes “a situation is absurd when it includes a conspicuous discrepancy between pretension or aspiration and reality” he provides the examples to qualify this, they being; “someone gives a complicated speech on a motion that has already been passed; a notorious criminal is made president of a major philanthropic foundation;… you are being knighted your pants fall down”. This in the same way mirrors Camus in the fact it requires a distinction between reality and appearance, but unlike Camus’ Human want and the Worlds apparent respondent silence which we can summarise as an Internal – External distinction, Nagels discrepancy – reality problem is centered very much in our experience and therefore an Internal – Internal distinction. This being because of the fact we take life for granted and act through our daily routines far too seriously. The world just does not play a part; it is not a ‘silent’ world unlike Camus and would not if it had the chance change things. It is not involved in the backward step we make when viewing ourselves objectively as this does not land us in the very nature of the Earth so that we may decipher properly how valuable our lives are in comparison with it, but instead propels us further into the minute discrepancies and habits of our lives.
The problem of taking life too seriously is not one that can be avoided, but when we step back and actually realize this and the fact we actually cannot provide any adequate reason for our actions, that is when 'TA' appears. It in the same way mirrors Camus’ by coming out of our own perception, and dying when we turn away from it.
We must realize that life is absurd because of our conscious ability to do so and either escape completely, or return with a cruel irony in the knowledge of this. Not a childish shaking of the fist like Camus proposes which betrays the actual importance our doomed situation. In the final paragraph he tells us that “it need not be a matter for agony unless we make It so”.

With Camus with find a rebellion that even Nagel is proud of, the extenuating circumstances of existence should not mean that you lay down and let time roll over you, this is a most admirable way of living and one I fully agree with. With Nagel on the other hand we have a more reasoned account, it doesn’t have half the colourful language and that stomach turning nauseating feeling with Camus gives us so well, but what it does have in my opinion, in it’s single devastating criticism that the world is not a part of the equation is something more applicable to real life.
But rather than live by one separate absurd, I find it imperative that we just live with the devastating knowledge of it that many men do not have. And feel ourselves blessed because of it