Matters of Life and Death
Thomas Nagel, "The Absurd"
Here are some questions to help guide your
reading of this essay.
- What sorts of things make people feel
that their lives are (or may be) absurd?
- Why does Nagel think these things couldn't
be what makes our lives absurd (if they really are absurd)?
- What sort of purpose do we seem to think
our lives have? (What gives our lives meaning?)
- What does Nagel mean by "absurd" anyway?
- How might we avoid having our lives
become absurd? (Would it be worth it to make the changes necessary
to avoid the absurdity?)
Strategy for reading the essay:
- Read the questions before you start reading the essay so you know what
to pay attention to.
- When you see a part of the essay that
seems to relate to one of the questions, write down the question, the page
number, and the answer the essay seems to be giving to the question. (For
example, you might write: Q4.What is absurd? p.13 "In ordinary life a situation
is absurd when …")
- If you can, try to give the author's
answers to the questions in your own words.
- Jot down quotations that you find especially
striking -- whether because they seem exactly right, dead wrong, or very
hard to understand.
- Also, jot down words or phrases in the
essay whose meanings you don't know.
- Finally, after you have read the whole
essay, go back to the questions and try to give at least a partial answer
to each. (Don't go back to particular sentences you underlined for
this -- try to answer based on what has stayed with you from reading
- If you had real trouble with any of
the questions, be sure to bring them up in discussion next time! Chances
are your classmates will want to discuss them, too!