Taylor and Nagel Both Represent Absurdity As A Function of Perspective – Theology Essay
Taylor describes the absurdity of life as represented my the myth of Sisyphus, condemned by the gods to eternally roll a rock up the mountain side only to have it roll
back down just before it reaches the top. This endless, meaningless activity is his doom, and an ideal illustration of the absurdity of life.
Taylor further analyses the situation of Sisyphus. Would the situation be less absurd were he to ever accomplish his task? No, it would not; for then he would be left in infinite boredom for all eternity. Would it be less absurd if he was attempting to accomplish some larger task such as building a temple? That would provide meaning, but if he finished then he would, in some respect, be left in the previous situation of boredom. He could avoid this by continuing to build temples, but does that not leave him in ultimately the same absurd situation? However, what if he enjoyed it? Then life would not be absurd to him, it would be a kind of paradise: to be allowed to do forever that which is the greatest desire of his heart to do.
This is Taylor’s conclusion: a life is meaningful, and therefore not absurd to the creature, so long as the living being takes pleasure in the activity. Meaning can only be understood from within. Looked down upon from the outside, anything can be considered meaningless and absurd. It only comes from within, where the being has a purpose and desires to accomplish his task. Ultimately, that is where all meaning must lie.
Nagel holds much the same view. He realizes that anything we do can in some way be regarded as absurd. Humans have a unique ability to view ourselves and our situation from an outside perspective. We can be spectators of our own lives. Yet it is precisely at that moment when we see our lives as absurd: when there is a conflict between the way we view our lives while living in them,
*Actually his point is more that we don’t view our lives while living them, we just live them. The contrast is between the seriousness with we take our life, and its objective meaninglessness and the way we view our lives when looking upon them from an outsider’s perspective.
So long as we take our lives seriously, and avoid the spectator perspective, our lives seem full of meaning. But the moment we step outside of ourselves at look down on our lives from above, we become like the philosopher who steps outside himself and can therefore doubt whether he can really know anything at all. But just as the philosopher must assume that he does in fact know something in order to function or to carry on a discussion. In the same way, we must assume that there is in fact purpose to our existence in order to function in the universe. Nagel’s conclusion, therefore, is similar to Taylor’s. If nothing matters, then the very fact itself that nothing matters does not matter. And so, we can approach our lives with a sense of irony, and need give little attention to the spectator’s position, which does not in the least help us to enjoy or appreciate anything in our lives.