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Tuesday, May 14, 2013


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Bill, your taxonomy prompted a couple of observations:

First, Nagelian absurdity (sense 4) holds that the sense of doubt and absurdity is inescapable. This position seems to overlook two distinctions: between the ‘sense of wonder’ and the ‘sense of doubt’; and between ‘questioning about’ and ‘sensing to be’. One can philosophize from the sense of wonder, rigorously investigating doubts, without acquiring an inescapable sense of doubt. Socrates in the Phaedo is an example – he ends his examination in hope rather than doubt. And one can question about philosophical problems without accepting a sense that something is the case; one can examine x without settling on a sense that x is y. To question ultimate meaning does not necessarily lead to a sense of absurdity or arbitrariness.

Second, sense 4 is uncomfortably close to meeting the qualifications for absurdity in senses 1, 2 and 3. There is a subtle and interesting irony here, as Nagel notes. But to conclude the case with irony seems romantic (though less so than Camus’ defiance), because one is closing a philosophical inquiry by means of an aesthetic/poetic device.

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