Nagel begins his article with a generic claim: Most people feel on occasion that life is absurd, and some feel it vividly and continually (Nagel, 1971) and then proceeds to offer standard arguments he feels are inadequate for the justification of such; the basic outlines (and subsequent rebuttal) of which follow:
1. What we do now will not matter in a million years - but this fact in itself does not matter. Arguing that our present lives might matter in a million years, however, does not make our present lives any less absurd.
2. We are no more than insignificantly small creatures in relation to the magnitude of the universe but this does not constitute a strong enough argument for the absurdity of life, for if we were big creatures in a small universe our lives would not be any less absurd; there is no connection between the space we occupy in existence and the absurdity of our lives.
3. Everyone dies, so all justification for our actions come to an end before the sequence of justifying these actions can be completed however, justifications continuously come to an end throughout the course of our lives, and justification for any process of action does not depend on the ending of a sequence of justifications. He uses the example of taking an aspirin to stop the pain from a headache to illustrate that one needs no further justification to conclude that actions are not futile. However, if one were to argue that self-justifying actions needed further justification by appealing to a justification outside of it, that chain of justification would have to also end, from which follows an infinite regress. This renders this pursuit for reasons for action useless. Nagel maintains that these arguments, despite their inefficacy at reaching a solid conclusion, reflect the fundamental truth of the absurdity of life. He then goes on to develop his somewhat ambitiously flawless argument to support this 'truth'.
[...] Nagel's first argument for life being necessarily absurd philosophically is set up by his observation of absurd situations within ordinary life, i.e. when the reality of a situation is different from the pretended end of a certain action. He gives the following examples: “someone gives a complicated speech in support of a motion that has already been passed; a notorious criminal is made president of a major philanthropic foundation; you declare your love over the telephone to a recorded announcement; as you are being knighted, your pants fall down” (Nagel 1971). [...]
[...] Nagel argues so on the grounds that end-points of our justifications are arbitrary and contingent” (Smith, 1991) which is not something we should readily concede with given the presumptuous nature of the claim and lack of justification in Nagel's argument that this is true. We could just as easily assume the existence of objective morality as an attempt to refute Nagel's conclusion that life is necessarily absurd on these grounds, by arguing that “some end-points of ethical justification are necessary and self-evident moral truths, such as that wisdom, friendship and aesthetic appreciation are intrinsically good” (Smith, 1991). Someone holding to these moral truths might justify their lives not being absurd by claiming, as moral objectivists [...]
[...] He lives it based on impulse and an instinct to survive. His life is therefore not absurd, because he lacks the capacity to reflect on the arbitrariness of all that he does. Is this to say, then, that because we have the capacity to realise that our lives are arbitrary they are thus absurd, regardless of whether or not any given human being takes on the external perspective? Or does he assume that because of this capacity, every human being does indeed realise that our lives are arbitrary? [...]
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