Do you REALLY believe that?

Something I’ve noticed: in 95% of the arguments I’ve witnessed or partaken in, any of the two positions the debaters take is logically defensible. Excluding the irrational arguments I’ve witnessed, arguments generally center around a small group of positive statements with the disagreements being concerned with normative statements.In high school forensics, we always, always played devils advocate as an exercise in argumentative discourse. The point was not so much as to understand the other side’s view as much as it was to see how easy it was to construct a defensible position on almost any public policy question.

To change subjects slightly (I’ll bring them back around in the end… I promise), my own personal beliefs have been constructed via the following process: investigate the positives, reconcile my normatives with the positives, and form my own beliefs around them. But after starting college, I noticed an interesting trend; friends started adopting other friend’s normatives, then seeking out positives to support them. While I feel my normatives are based on a philosophical structure (in which I hope none of my opinions cause me to ‘backtrack’), I felt because my friends normative values were unstructured because they weren’t a result of their own investigations. In listening to their opinions on various public policy, I’ve found them to have stances on an issue that cause them to contradict a stand on another. I’m by no means saying I’m not guilty of the exact same thing; in fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say I have one or two beliefs that may contradict each other (but when they come to light, I’ll do my best to reconcile them). My concern is that I feel people are taking positions on policy because their friends are taking them. Just because a person can defend a piece of public policy doesn’t mean they’ve thought out how that piece of policy reflects their own personal philosophy. In other words, I really feel that people advocate positions without contemplating how those policies, or what those policies imply on their moral/ethic/philisophical structure (the dashes are ‘or’s because some people have no ‘moral’ structure for philosophic reasons).

In one sense, I really don’t believe it matters, based on my own personal philosophy, but on another level, I think it’s sad for the person because having been easily swayed one way, it’s simple for a person who is adapt at arguing to sway the other person, and that person’s position based on their own highest values is never realized.

Nagel’s Absurd

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.

Psuedo Philosophical… and a double post

I didn’t feel the following had anything to do with my last post, hence the double post.

I remember when I was first starting to read Nietzsche my friends and I would always make fun of a famous quote by him. It was something along the lines of “if you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” Now, I haven’t been fortunate enough to read the quote in its full context yet, but I think maybe I’ve uncovered part of its mystery, and I hope that I am not perceived as being pretentious for doing so.

The concept that we as humans have attempted to confine to the idea of “truth” (I know, saying “truth” would have been so much easier, but truth doesn’t necessarily encompass “fact”, “what is”, and a host of other concepts) is perhaps the very abyss Nietzsche was talking about. Humans can look into the abyss, but often times it is a frightful thing to look into . Perhaps this is because of an inability to cope, perhaps this is because of the revelation that a glimpse of truth is able to inspire, or perhaps this is because of another reason, but it seems that the true, unreported number one fear of humans is in fact not public speaking but a true firm understanding of “what is” (perhaps we can call it truth, but we can only do that by realizing that the standard conception of “truth” is not in fact “truth”). Perhaps we as humans, as a race and as a vast set of individuals, are so fearful of falling into a Nihilistic spiral that we have to come up with meanings and purposes, have to construct lies and deceit, have to deceive ourselves so that perhaps we cannot fully understand ourselves and the mistakes we make. Perhaps we are incapable of understanding ourselves because “truth” is that abyss that we are so fearful of looking into. (Borrowing from concepts learned in economics) Perhaps the opportunity cost of comprehending “truth” are far inferior to the benefit of discovering it. Is it worth the possibility of falling into a nihilistic depression to understand “truth”?

That, I think, no one can answer.

Finally know what it feels like to be a starving college student

Don’t ask me why I’m not at home right now eating. I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

It’s 5:46 after my last class. I haven’t had a real meal all day. However, I also haven’t stood up from this computer in the library, walked my lazy butt home, and made myself dinner. Nobody’s fault but mine.

And yes, that’s the only important thing I could think of to blog about.