Sunday, July 28, 2013


I wish I was referring to the humorous evocation of the absurd, but no; "Absurdism" is, apparently, a variant of existentialism, and so humor has no place in its discussion.   But perhaps it does.

I came across a book called The Absurdity of Philosophy and downloaded it without much thought, just assuming, I must confess, that it would be an amusing read.  Thus far, it is not.

I was puzzled by the preliminary chapter in which the author describes himself as going through a daily routine pausing, with considerable frequency, to light cigarettes.  It's been some time since I've read anything written in last few decades which refers to lighting cigarettes at all, let alone doing so every time one is not involved in doing anything else requiring the use of hands.  I smoked for many years, and am familiar with lighting a cigarette in this reflexive manner, in my case whenever the phone rang in my office, for example.  Curiously, I find myself vaguely annoyed by the author's tendency to advise me that he lit a cigarette after a shower, while watching TV, etc.

Then, for reasons not foreshadowed, reference was made to Camus.  And then to Kierkegaard.  And then to French history.  The serial consumption of cigarettes seemed to be explained.  Ah, he must be French, I thought.  Cigarettes, Camus and Kierkegaard.  What else could he be?

But it seems he's not French.  He does, however, seem to accept (pun intended, I suppose) Absurdism.

It appears Absurdism reflects one of the three options the exceedingly melancholy Dane Kierkegaard believed rather presumptuously are available to us in reacting to (you guessed it) the meaninglessness of our lives.  The others are, unsurprisingly, suicide and belief in God or some kind of Other who or which manages to accord meaning to our miserable existence.  Absurdists, at least of the Camusian (?) variety, forego suicide (doubtless with difficulty and regret) and disdain belief in God.  They instead accept the meaninglessness, and live with it.  Perhaps this is similar to Sartre's version of "self-reliance", which evidently consists of withdrawing into oneself in response to the nausea said to result from everything and everyone but oneself. 

Now I will acknowledge that confronted with these three cheerful options, I would be inclined towards acceptance myself.  It is an option which would at least engender a kind of self-respect.  I would in that case, assuming I bought into the meaningless of life and was appropriately nauseated, be like Camus' Sisyphus and acquire a certain dignity.

However, I find the cause of the alleged three options to be difficult to accept.  That is to say, I find it difficult to conclude that life and the universe are meaningless.

What Kierkegaard and others like him actually seem to conclude is, in my opinion, that life and the universe have no meaning to them, in the sense of a purpose which makes everything bearable that they find disagreeable (and they apparently find many, many things disagreeable).  They have no meaning they find satisfactory, in other words.

But why should they?  Why expect they would, in the first place?   It seems extremely silly to believe the universe exists or you exist for a specific reason.  It seems even sillier to expect that this reason would be somehow intimately related to what we do or don't do, should or should not do, and that we would or should approve of the reason.

Acceptance of the fact that the universe and life need have no such reason would be more reasonable, if acceptance is what is appropriate.  Does this amount to the same thing, though, without the arrogant assumption that the universe was made for us, and the disappointment we feel when we understand it was not?

If so, the extirpation of the laughable conceit is beneficial in itself.  It's nice to live without being a self-involved fool.  How does one live, though, if we find the universe unsatisfactory?

We don't find it unsatisfactory, though.  We find our lives unsatisfactory for various reasons.  But we can solve certain problems, at least, and make it more satisfactory than not.  This isn't worthless, as our satisfaction is significant to us and why shouldn't it be?

We form our own goals and work towards them.  We make our lives meaningful. 

As someone who admires the Stoic way, I would say we live according to nature.  That doesn't entail belief in a God in any traditional sense, but it entails a respect and even reverence for the universe and all that's in it.  The universe inspires awe and reflection; we recognize this and act accordingly.

No comments:

Post a Comment