Thomas Nagel’s: The Absurdity of Life

In this term paper, I will discuss about life, death and the absurdity of life, by showing the different methods of this term paper which are the following the synthesis, analysis, critique and the last one is the conclusion. Personally, I admit that the book of Thomas Nagel entitled “The view from nowhere” as my one reference, is so difficult to comprehend and I think, this reference or book is not fit for the first timer who takes the philosophy course. But rather, I think it is intended only for those experts’s in philosophy course, who can easily understand the chapters in the book.
However, in spite of that difficulty that I have been experienced, what I did was to go beyond my best with pressing mind just to give some insights of that book and of course, so that the readers will give some intention to read this works. However, when I did this term paper, I always kept on thinking that this difficulty, is part of my training, even though it gives my mind so painful but I never stop to work on it, just for that difficulties. Even though, the book implies a very analytic approach.
Indeed, I’m happy to say that the book teaches my mind to think beyond this world and it gives me some techniques to expand my mind and more so to acknowledge my topic which is the absurdity of life. Honestly, I haven’t finished reading the book but I think if I’m going to continue reading the book, although every chapter have a connection and has difference interpretation, it would makes my mind more complex to dissect the different insights of every chapters. I read only the last chapter of the book which focuses more about life.

Because I think, it would make me interesting to discuss about life, because some people or majority are now have this kind of fear to face life and to face death. So, in this term paper, I also dedicate my work to those people who are struggling about the different phobia in life. Thus, I heard some voices that would say that the book is an interesting book. But, I deny there words and I did not affirm yet. In the sense, that it’s very hard to understand the different connections in every chapter. In the other sense, I have also this feeling to affirm on what they said, in the sense that it gives us enlightenment and wider mind.
Thomas Nagel as contemporary philosopher wanted to break the vicious circle regarding many possibilities that would happen in life and even in death. Yes, possibility would positively happen in our life but as my suggestion, we will minimize the fear in life in all that we experience because we know that “The one” guides us in every steps of our journey. I. Synthesis: Life is like the “analogy of the spider”1 where directly appeared in the urinal of the men’s room who have a unique attitude of existence.
It keeps on moving until it finds a comfortable and secure place to continue feeding any tiny attractive insects. So, from this analogy I think the spider has two standpoints here by looking at life. These two standpoints here are the characteristics in life which are synthetic and analytic. It is somehow called as the passivity of life in looking to the physical world because it seems that it keeps on moving to find the infinite satisfaction but as human being can’t satisfy. Thomas Nagel presented life as instances, while explaining the metaphysical life.
However, as I could see Nagel somehow used also the anthropological explanation about life. As what I understood the book of Nagel that life is the center in the universe. It simply means that if we negate to recognize life, the universe also affected and experience negation because universe is composed of bodily life, which every living organism seems to experience existence. As Blondel said, that we should recognized our responsibility or duty to live life. It means that life would undergo a certain process to go back to the origin.
In other words, it has certain path of reflexive to think what should life to be. There is a movement in life which seems to be the prime mover in controlling the condition of the world. Thus, dissatisfaction in life is unavoidable but as human being, we keep on desiring more and more and we think that all what we desire can achieve it. As Maurice Blondel would say “never stop” continue to seek what is in life. As Blondel said “it can be less perfect but it cannot be perfect as we seek life. This means that we can achieve what should life to be but not totally.
As human being, we have life and we try rendering life by moving self to attain the very meaning of life. However, we should not forget to go beyond the contradiction of freedom is infinite reality as Blondel said. We should act life according to our norm, rendering ourselves into action in sacrifices that undergo a hectic process to attain the very meaning of life. Thomas Nagel, emphasis life in general. Including the life of the animals, and as we can see the different animals, keeps also in finding the space in this world wherein they were capable to survive whatever challenge that would give to nature.
Like for example the life of a turtle that is not incapable of living in the limited water, so the turtle would be transfer near in the abundant water areas such as in fishpond, near in the posits where the water keep on flowing towards the certain area where the turtle is capable to live. However, it doesn’t matter like this situation but there is a slight the same standpoints. Indeed, Thomas Nagel presented life as instances or in the word accidental and still a mystery. A mystery which is cannot be solved in a logical way. Thus, life for me has something to negate the objectivity and it is necessary in life, as Thomas Aquinas would say.
If we try to looks at the case of life in our time, we possible know the flow of life; it has been a structure to make. However, we annunciated to someone by just comparing our existence to other self. LIFE: “The point of objectivity with respect to value runs the risk of having value behind altogether. We may reach a standpoint so removed from the perspective of human life that all we can do is to observe: nothing seems to have a value of the kind it appears to have from inside and all we can see is human desires, human striving – human valuing as an activity or condition”2
As far as I understand from this footnote, it seems that it aims to negate the human life so that we could somehow focus only on the objectivity as basis to look at life giving distance to evaluate life beyond the value of life itself. It is just like to deny the essence of life and then transcend in objective way, so that we can evaluate life by observing the condition of the world. “The uneasy relation between inner and outer perspectives, neither of which we can escape, makes it hard to maintain a coherent attitude toward the fact that we exist, toward the meaning or point our lives”3 4
Yes, since we exist in a mystery or accidental way by means of our parents. We cannot detached the coherent attitudes of life because of the fact that we are imperfect being that have the access to look at the physical world as full of dissatisfaction and as well as looking the content of the world objectively. In other hand, by doing such different functions in our existence, we can slowly know the identity of what should life to be. “The same person who is subjectively submitted without destroying it – leaving him divided.
And objection self, noticing that it is personally identical with the object of its detachment, comes to feel trapped in this particular life – detached but unable to disengage and dragged along by a subjective seriousness it can’t even attempt to rid of” It means that Thomas Nagel from this passages life reduced from universal to particular which the individual life. We have individual insights by looking at life. That there is something things that we not yet to know in each individual, that is why Nagel reduce the objective self.
However, it is like this if we try to compare our self to other personally, it seems that there is something that makes us human being different and yet we cannot grasp at it easily, as if we are passive to grasp it. As if, it is known to us but we cannot hold it and that makes everyone unique. It is just like comparing the two people and then eliminates the thing makes different. “No doubt many who have experienced the discomfort of objective detachment from themselves simply forget about it and live inside the world as if there were no external view”5
It means that sometimes as we continue to live in the world, we sometimes forget the basis in life to go back the objective detachment and we simply live our life miserable without seeing the external world, as if we are in blind fold to see the external world. Thomas Nagel emphases that we should not forget what govern life to find the very essence of it by looking the flow of life itself. “The wish to live so far as possible in full recognition that one’s position in the universe is not central has an
element of the religious impulse about it, or at least an on acknowledges and includes it can be fruitful, even if complete integration inevitably eludes us”6 We cannot deny the fact that most human being searched life through religious impulse or spiritual aspects. Because, some would think in the sense that it can somehow find the authentic answer of life, on what life should be. Even though, some people believe in different doctrines it is necessary to them to worship because they believe that by means of worshiping to something, it can trigger to answer stands of life.
I believe that many did this way as contemplation to transcend there self to find the answer of life. “The external standpoint and the contemplation of death lead to loss of equilibrium in life. Most of us have felt a constant undertow of absurdity in the projects and ambitions that give our lives their forward drive”7 Life is like a substance it has the capacity to transcend in every moment, and it has mind that keeps on thinking in advance on what will happened about natural phenomenon of life basing to the objective reality.
It is somehow like putting life into distance and fronting with the external standpoint in able to destroy the objective reality. However, it is always keep on contemplating to transcend life itself looking to others which also keep on wondering that is why the external would allow breaking life into death. If we look the very context of life, it seems that if we could look closely the phenomenon beyond life, there is something would appear that life is like cycle. If there is life, there is also the time of death, which is call as the natural phenomenon of life?
So, we could not confiscate life because life is only cooperating according to existence. I addition , if put life in the particular box and then life would able to get out from that certain box, the life would separate from the external reality and it would create a phenomenon which is in negative side which is death. “The real me is not merely part of my world. The person who I am is a contingent on me, I depend for my existence on TN, and TN depends on the world and is inessential to it.
This is another of the discomforts of being someone in particular; my world depends for its existence on his birth, even though he also appears in it as a character. It is eerie to see oneself and one’s entire world in this way as a natural product”. 8 Thomas from this footnote refers his life according to TN which remind him the being ness of his self in particular. It means that without TN as body, the self which represent as I of Thomas Nagel cannot exist anymore in particular.
In addition, there should be something body which can represent the whole life of Thomas Nagel which can recognize regarding his existence where he depend on it. In other words, If we elaborate the whole point, I which is TN represents as the one who is doing the action and it would combine the self so that we can see the being ness of Thomas Nagel. MEANING: “In seeing ourselves from outside we find it difficult to take our lives seriously. This loss of conviction, and attempt to regain it, is the problem of meaning of life”. 9
So, Thomas Nagel stated that if we look at life outside vision, we could see the self has a genuine problem. Because, if we put self outside reality it has lots of possibility to be consider and it has potential to not attain the meaning of life. This problem is quite difficult to reconcile. In this problem, I will give this my answer, regarding this one by exposing my analysis at successive parts of the term paper. “The capacity for transcendence brings with it a liability to alienation, and the wish to escape this condition and to find a larger meaning can lead to even greater absurdity.
Yet we can’t abandon the external standpoint because it is our own. ”10 Transcendence is a factor to attain knowledge, but in this case it’s quite different. Thus, if we keep on transcending her, the life would become absurd it is. We can somehow arrived into absurdity and its very depressing point that the life would arrived into negation. Because if try to put life in the external reality we can somehow see the concrete issue of life to be absurd. Although, we have been sets the different aim in living our existence. In fact, in this footnotes, we could not say that life can attain the meaning of life.
Moreover, if keep on transcending ourselves externally, we can not say in the first place that life has a reason to be exists because life in the first place it’s a mystery and aside from that it’s full of negation of permeated by neurotic obsession. “The real problem is with external point of view, which cannot remain a mere spectator once the self has expanded to accommodate it. It has to join in with the rest and lead this life from which it is disengaged. As a result the person becomes in significant part detached from what he is doing”. 11
This is just a problem of self from external reality, when it is on the way to expand in leading life into disengaged which can detached from the I, which is the one doing such action. However, this is remaining a problem of self, in putting self into external reality. Once, it is reconcile already, it will give us such conclusion about what should the possibility of life to be. It is absurd or it is life a meaning. This is the clue of this paper, to dissect the essence of life. “The internal view resist to reduction to a subject interpretation of its contents which the external view tries to force on it.
But this puts the objective standpoint in conflict with itself. Finding my objectively insignificant, I am nevertheless unable to extricate myself from an unqualified commitment to it – to my aspirations and ambitions, my wishes for fulfillment, recognition, and understanding, and so forth. The sense of absurd is the result of this juxtaposition”. 12 The fact that the self govern from external reality, the self would return into passivity which can test the objectivity to create a conflict and the internal reality would reduce to particular self.
The standpoints of objectivity will calculate the particular object. “The loss of self in the individual sense is thought to require by the revelations of an impersonal view, which takes precedence over the view from here. And apparently it is possible for some individuals to achieve this withering away of the ego, so that personal life continues only as a vehicle for the transcendent self, not as an end itself”. 13 The particular individuals can achieve the ego of others, if the ego or the “I” will sensitive on counteracting the possibility of transcendence.
Moreover, transcendence is the factor to recall all the past experience of the particular self. But, it will cause also the conflict in the part of transcendence, if the Ego will not aware of the external reality. So, that would that the self should be careful of transcending while looking the self to the external or outside reality because as Thomas Nagel said that it will the possible can that the life will absurd and he agreed about that thought. “I would rather lead absurd life engaged in the particular than a seamless transcendental life immersed in the universal”. 14
As what I understood from this passage from the book, it seems that Thomas Nagel would rather like to project his vision of life in the particular subjective standpoints than to project life in the universal objective reality. Here, we can see the important of particular subjectivity and we can also find here the deduction point of view about life, wherein life reduces from universal to particular subjectivity. I would rather to affirm the point of Thomas Nagel that life should be in the particular stands so that it will become easy to us to eliminate the habitual weakness in life which are the failures.
“Objectivity is not content to remain a servant of the individual perspective and its values. It has a life of its own inspiration for transcendence that will not be quieted in response to the call to reassume our true identity. This shows itself not only in the permanent disaffection from individual life that is the sense of the absurd”. 15 The objectivity has a life, as what Thomas Nagel clarifies from this passage, in which can drives the whole rule of transcendence. So, objectivity is not the things subject can be independent itself. It is a matter of looking at the particular subjective reality.
“The external standpoint plays an important positive role in human motivation as well as a negative one, and the two cannot separate. Both depend on the independence of the external view and the pressure it puts us under to bring it into our lives. The sense of the absurd is just a perception of the limits of this effort; reached when we ascend higher on the transcendental ladder than a mere human individuality can follow, even with the help of considerable readjustment”. 16 It means that if our life climb to objectivity and yet it will not successfully fulfill to complete, the will arrived to absurdity.
In this passage, it seems that we can find two movements here of life. To go up to objectivity and to retreat from the objectivity to go down, return to particular subjective being and yet this would be the primary cause of absurd life. Thomas Nagel agreed with this kind of thought and he presented that the subject not the complete in objectivity, it would full to go down and then, he said that this is the origin of the absurdity in life. In addition, we transcend objectively and yet we fail to reach the completeness of our transcendence and the possible life to do is to go back into particular.
This is the reason why our life will absurd and Thomas Nagel defended on this argument, in saying partially that life will absurd through this instances. We can copy this argument by citing again the analogy of certain spider which chain in the men’s urinal room. So, if we try to trace back the analogy of the spider, it seems we can find the same cases to what Thomas Nagel saying about the absurdity of life. So, in the case of the spider, since the spider is in chain for almost ten years and the only thing that the spider can do is to keep climbing the wall up and down in any moment.
The same also about the reason why our life will be absurd according Thomas Nagel. This point will be included in the part of my critique. “Finally, there is an attitude which cuts through the opposition between transcendent universality and parochial self – absorption and that is the attitude of nonegocentric respect for the particular”. 17 As what my analogy would explain this passage that there is something an impulse of cutting the universal and particular which can be the cause of life to be absurd.
However, from this instance in times of cutting both universal and particular, it would try to say that the subject or the individual self can be the attitude of nonegocentric of the particular subjectivity. DEATH: “Particular things can have a noncompetitive completeness which is transparent to all aspects to all aspects of the self. This also helps explain why the experience of great beauty tends to unify the self: the object engages us immediately and totally in a way that makes distinctions among points of view of irrelevant”.
18 It seems that particular can freely stand transparently to all aspects of self with no competitions to objective reality. The particular here also has its own unifying identity which cultivate by any subject. Most of us can deal about personal self without consulting to the other self and it is an overview of the independent of particular to stand alone and looking only in future by using present individual self. This is formally called as unifying idea of the particular which is the principle of particular itself.
However, this could not suppose that this is only the attitudes or characteristic of particular, which is to unify the principle itself, as a basis in looking to other reality. But rather, the particular has also consists of several transparent characteristics to set as guidelines to eliminate the completeness of the objectivity. “Our constitutional self – absorption together with our capacity to recognize its excessiveness make us irreducibly absurd even if we achieve a measure of subjective-objective integration by bringing the two standpoints closer together.
The gap is too wide to be closed entirely, for anyone who is fully human”. 19 From this footnote, Thomas Nagel put self as having limitation to integrate other subject which irreducible to reach the point of absurdity of life in each subject-objective by bringing the two standpoints, in which the two points have a connection to limit the movement of self to other self which can possible, made the absurdity of human life. This is still the problem here, even if life will organized other subject which also had life.
So, the capacity of self here is quite limited, in short self has limited territory to move. Unlike, the part objectivity, it us has universal movement which means the objectivity has the unlimited to move anytime. “We are so accustomed to the parallel progress of subjective and objective time that there is some that there is some shock in the realization that the world will go calmly on without me after I disappear. It is the ultimate form of abandonment”.
20 It simply means that if the self will experienced in track of death, the objective time will not stop to function but it will spontaneously working to keep on transcending and transcending, even if all existence will in that track of death. The objective still continues to exist and do the function to the world. “In our objective conception of the world, particular things can come to an end because the possibility of their non- existence is allowed for.
The possibility of both the existence and the nonexistence of a particular object, artifact, organism, or person is given by actualities which underlie either possibility and coexist with both of them. Thus the existence of certain elements and truth of the laws of chemistry underlie the possibility of synthesizing a particular chemical compound, or of decomposing it. Such possibilities rest on actualities”21. The issue here regarding this footnote, is that particular things was already have a place wherein it was being actualize and this actuality is no other than death.
It is somehow the same with the act and potency. In such life continue moving towards the existence itself and yet as a result is the actuality to be actualize which is death. Death is actuality, because the possibility of nonexistence is allowed to enter in the particular things which the human being is involved which underlie for this stage to not again exist. “This is a very strong form of nothingness, the disappearance of an inner world that had not been thought of as a contingent manifestation at all and whose absence is therefore not the realization of a possibility already contained in the conception of it.
It turns out that I am not the sort of a thing I was unconsciously tempted to think I was a set of ungrounded possibilities as opposed to a set of possibilities grounded in a contingent actuality”22 From these footnotes, refers to the definition of death and it is being referred also to the possibility of realization that had been set to be actualizing as ungrounded series to the possibility of life. This realization that I’m referring to is not “in the future events” but it is rather in the present events of life.
It is just like that we can only think in the present but nothingness comes, nothing cans future to think of. “Another reason to regard death without too much concern is that everyone’s mortality is part of the general cycle of biological renewal which, like the fact that hawks eat mice, it makes no sense to deplore”. 23 Practical speaking death is a part of life which all of the living things including us are subject to dies. On other hand, life has a biological renewal, even if our life will absurd to exist.
As Blondel said that life and death has no other way to escape, but to undergo a process to of life which is death is natural to be taken those who exist. Our life is not permanent here on earth. We only barrowed these lives in order for us exist. “My death was going to occur in consequence of the end of the world”. 24 It means that if human being experienced life to exist, human being also will have to experience death which is the consequences of our existence. Human life is not permanent even other living being it has the access to take death. In short, no one is excused to take life in death.
Because, our life here on earth were pass by and because of the very fact that we are mortal being. In short, all things living organism is subject to destined in death. However, living organism even human being hasn’t known what specific time death will come to us, we just unaware of the time to take death. Conclusion: Well, based on the footnotes that I have been explained, the Skeptical mind of Thomas Nagel looking at life, he really believes that life will absurd by putting life in external reality and proving the common ground of human being which gives us a view that the life will absurd.
Thus, I would like first to elaborate why our life will absurd by again using the analogy of the spider. So, as I look at the analogy of the spider, for almost ten years in chain in the men’s urinal room, so, the only thing that can spider did was to repeated and repeated climbed up in the wall finding the tiny attractive insects to feed as means survival and yet it goes down where the spider started to climb from that particular wall any moment of instances and that makes the absurdity of the life.
However, if we try also to elaborate our life as human being, we can see the big deal here about the absurdity of life by just looking at our self to the objective reality, in which our life are restless, always keep on in desiring and struggling just to go beyond the objective reality and yet, we fail to go beyond objectively because we have only limited capacity to grasp that, then we stop to go beyond and go back the origin because we cannot hold the very beyond of life because we are limited to reached that beyond ness and we cannot force ourselves to tap for something divine for us, that’s why our life will arrived at absurdity.
I will negate the idea of Thomas Nagel because actually in the very nature of life there is no infinite movement to escape from this absurdity of life and this is the very nature of life because, in the first place, we were exist in mystery way with limited knowledge of the external reality. So, what we should to do is only to accept whatever the consequence of our existence.
On the other hand, Thomas Nagel considered this absurdity as a consequence of our existence. However, as we know that life will have the access to be absurd, then we should not let our life do what is not good for us but to rather, continue nurture our life in right path. I therefore, conclude that life wills absurd because our life has a limitation to look at objectively and the limitation is hindrance to absurd life.

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