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Existentialism Essay

3494 words - 14 pages


The purpose of this essay is to summarize the main views of Nagel and Taylor and to determine if they are too pessimistic in nature, or if in fact, Wolf’s standards for how to live are indeed too low. I will begin by discussing Thomas Nagel’s views on why life is fundamentally absurd given the criteria taken from Nagel’s article, “The Absurd.” Secondly, I will discuss Richard Taylor’s theory, which states that as humans, most people do not live meaningful lives, and demonstrate how that statement relates to the story of Sisyphus, and expand upon Taylor’s belief that it is essentially impossible for the majority of people to live a truly meaningful life. Thirdly, I will ...view middle of the document...

The second argument presented relates our knowledge of space and time, for “we are tiny specks in the infinite vastness of the universe, our lives are mere instants even on a geological time scale, let alone a cosmic one; we will be dead any minute” (p. 768). Nagel rebukes this statement, as well because that is assuming that if we were immortals, as vast as the universe, our lives would be less absurd. Nagel questions how one’s life span and physical magnitude can make a meaningless life less absurd- yet there are no grounds for the argument given. The third and final argument stems from our mortal state of being, so given the fact that because we are destined to die, all chains of justification must leave off in mid-air. Nagel has several responses to this particular argument. He begins by stating that a life span is not a sequence of activities dependent upon its future. In fact, chains of justification, such as taking aspirin to alleviate a headache, come repeatedly to an end within daily life, and whether or not the entirety of the process can be justified does not negate the finality of these end points. Another point Nagel addresses is if one where to argue that nothing could be justified unless it is justified in terms of something outside itself previously justified, then an infinite cycle is created and no chain of justification can ever be completed. Because of this logic we need to acknowledge that this continuous chain is not absurd due to the simple reasoning that every measure taken is to satisfy a goal in the near future, therefore our needs are met along the way.
Although the theories put forth fail as arguments for the absurdity of life, they do bring to light key ideas that Nagel believes are fundamentally correct. Which brings us to Nagel’s personal view on why life is fundamentally absurd. In his article, Nagel frankly states that “It [life] is absurd because we ignore doubts we know cannot be settled, continuing to live with nearly undiminished seriousness in spite of them” (p. 769). Nagel demonstrates this theory with a series of examples exhibiting a “conspicuous discrepancy between pretention or aspiration and reality” for instance, “you declare your love over the telephone to a recorded announcement; [or] as you are being knighted, your pants fall down” (p. 769). What Nagel brings to the table is the unavoidable truth, life’s little reminders to not take ourselves so seriously. When we are placed in absurd situations, like the ones aforementioned, we often feel the need to adjust our own attitude to assuage the moment of recognition, in which we acquire the ability to view our inflated egos from an ulterior perspective. For it is in these moments that we come upon the sense that life as a whole is absurd. Which brings us to Nagel’s main philosophical proposal: the conflict between our ability to take our projects seriously, i.e. the lived perspective, meaning our own personal view of reality, and our ability to...

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