Thomas Nagal has written what is perhaps the most profound, accurate, and beautiful depiction of life. It isn’t idealistic, it isn’t pessimistic, and it isn’t farfetched.
The premise of Nagal’s piece, “The Absurd”, is simple and easy to infer from the title: the lives of humans are absurd. He uses the two premises derived from the definition of absurdity (a contrast between either idealism or aspiration and reality) to describe an ironic dichotomy in human activity, which is the seriousness in which people approach their lives and the “possibility of regarding everything about which we are serious as arbitrary…”
The crux of the first half of his argument rests on the activity of personal reflection that all humans engage in. Were we to be animals incapable of reflection, he argues, we would be slaves to our instincts, effectively negating any possibility for aspiration, thus defeating absurdity. However, the fact that we are idealistic and have aspirations, the fact that we plan what we want our occupations to be, our concern for our personal lives, our concern for others, categorizes our existence as absurd in that nothing we do “matters a million years from now.”
Nagal, however, seems more concerned with the reaction to existential absurdity than it’s explanation. He addresses attempts to escape absurdity via reflective absence (impossible according to Nagal) and via suicide. He rebuts both by posing the question of whether or not the absurdity of our existence is a problem that needs solving. Instead of attempting to overcome absurdity, Nagal argues that our absurdity is one of humanity’s most human elements.
“If a sense of the absurd is a way of perceiving our true situation, then what reason can we have to resent or escape it? …It results from the ability to understand our human limitations. It need not be a matter for agony unless we make it so…. we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.”
**EDIT** I’ve noticed a lot of people have been visiting this post. I’m curious what all of you have to say about “The Absurd.” Feedback is appreciated.