Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Life is absurd!! 人生沒有意義?!

Thamos Nagel 1971年的文章(The Journal of Philosophy),人生很荒謬?

Summary from

An absurd situation is one in which there's a conspicuous disparity between pretension/aspiration and reality, e.g., Al Capone president of fraternal order of police; great speech for motion already passed; marriage proposal to a machine.

Some arguments for the absurdity of life.

1. Life is absurd because "Nothing matters."
Problem: Saying that "X matters" or "X is important" expresses concern about X ("mattering" is not an activity things do: "my child matters to me" and "my child chatters to me" have same grammatical form but different logical form). But concern has to be somebody's concern. But nobody but a psychopath can have no concern about anything. One cannot annihilate all values. (Hare)

2. Life is absurd because what we do won't matter 1,000,000 years from now.
Problem: If what we do now won't matter in 1,000,000 years, then it doesn't matter now what matters or doesn't matter in 1,000,000 years.

3. Life absurd because we're tiny specks in an immense universe.
Problem: No reason why size per se should be relevant to life's absurdity. We could be as big as the universe or last forever, and yet our lives be absurd; similarly, if our lives are not absurd, it's hard to see why becoming smaller per se would render our lives absurd.

4. The tension between seriousness and doubt as the basis for the possibility of taking our lives to be absurd.

  1. Unavoidability of seriousness: we take our lives seriously. We pursue our lives.
  2. Inescapability of doubt: our lives, viewed sub specie aeternitatis look comical because we act on the basis of values and principles which we cannot ultimately justify.

  3. Objections:
    • an appeal to passion eliminates (2). We cannot listen to a great piece of music that moves you and at the same time doubt its value. Same for other things which interest us and about which we are passionate.

    • Reply: But why should an appeal to passion answer a question about justification? At times we feel passionately about something which later we discover to be of little or no intrinsic value.
    • Is Nagel looking for something which cannot be had in principle, i.e., the ultimate justification of all values? If so, why should my inability to do what cannot in principle be done produce anomie in me?
  4. Hence, there's a mismatch between our seriousness and our inability to explain why our lives are that important. This is the absurdity of it.

  5. NOTES:
    • Why appeal to humanity (e.g., my goal is to serve humanity and improve its lot) doesn't work, for what's the point of humanity?
    • Why appeal to God doesn't work, for what's the point of God?

    • Reply: there's no point to God's existence because God exists necessarily; asking the point of God's existence is committing a category mistake.
    • Ignoring the issue, e.g. by not reflecting on ourselves, won't eliminate the absurdity because the unexamined life is of little value and not meaningful either.
So, for Nagel, absurdity is an unavoidable feature of human life. The psychological "remedy" he proposes is to look at our lives with irony. Since an awareness of the absurdity of life can generate irony, the absurdity of life can produce the beginning of its own palliative.

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