The absurd (from the Latin absurdus) is the border, the underside, the reverse side of the meaning, its transformed form. The attempt to give a categorical definition of absurdity is impossible and in itself is absurd, since absurdity does not catch in the network either common sense, notions of reason, or ideas of reason. Absurdity is paradoxical. Reason in its discursive movement encounters countermeasures, which at first are perceived as absurd as something unthinkable, and then, being included in the logic of reasoning, expand the boundaries of knowledge and become “common sense”.
he reason as a reflection of the bases of discourse is presented in antinomies and paradoxes, forming as an absurdity what either constitutes an alternative to the accepted meaning (countermeasure), or is beyond meaning (meaninglessness). The history of human thought can be considered as the unfolding of different understandings of the meaning and accordingly different interpretations of the absurd. There is a new redefinition of not only sense, but also absurdity, a new demarcation of the boundaries between meaning and absurdity: from treating absurdity as a non-objective word and saying without a referent, to understanding absurdity as a violation of the laws of logic and, finally, to interpreting the absurd as that that it is impossible to imagine what lies beyond the boundaries of understanding and the objective-ideal world of meanings, revealed in human discourses and principle possible. Expanding the field of meanings leads to a rethinking of the absurd, to delineating its new boundaries. At the same time, absurdity is included in the very structure of logical procedures of proof, since indirect proof (see Proof indirect), or proof from the contrary, cannot be carried out without resorting to absurdity. However, in logic and epistemology, the problem of the absurdity of expressions and absurdities as possible limits of meaning, like a collision of meaning and nonsense, is poorly developed.
For the ancient philosophy, the material phenomenal world is fluid, it is changeable, how the opinions about it are changeable, but it is intelligible since it is possible to identify invariant structures (Eidos, numbers, forms, atoms) in it. The logic of intelligent reasoning is logic that obeys the laws of identity and non-contradiction. The absurd is associated with “non-objective names”, words that do not correspond with the real object, with violation of the laws of logic, with logical errors, with an unjustified confusion of categories or with their substitution, even with logically correct reasoning, if it is based on incorrect or limited assumptions. Thus, the Pythagoreans, confronted with the problem of incommensurability and thus with irrational numbers, while observing a logically correct geometric proof, declared the problem itself a sacred secret. The domain of existence, being irrational, overturned the models of intelligibility that they saw in number and numerical relationships. Later, those restrictions that were adopted in ancient mathematics as its grounds were removed, the understanding of the number was extended and included irrational numbers. What was considered an absurdity, an irrationality, a violation of the canons of logic turned out to be that it has a completely rational meaning, although the designation of these numbers as irrational has been preservedю
The problem of absurdity arose primarily in the delineation of true and false reasoning, which was so important for the practice of rhetorical and judicial discourses. For ancient philosophy, absurdity is a symptom and a harbinger of the falsity of reasoning: truth is the embodiment of meaning, and falsity is nonsense. Ancient thought widely used the reference to absurdity as a counter-sense in the proof to the contrary. At the same time, truth and falsity acquired ontological meaning in the pre-Socratics, being correlated with being and non-being. Eleatics, emphasizing the importance of the principle of non-contradiction (we recall the maximum of Antisthenes: “it is impossible to contradict”), believed that the object admits only one definition, contradictory judgments about it are inconceivable in principle and pointless statements are absurd. But the discussion of the problem of absurdity was not limited to this form of absurdity. Sophists, primarily engaged in rhetorical practice, sought to identify contradictions in reasoning, allowed the equivalence of true and false judgments. Denying the importance of the principle of non-contradiction, they held the idea that the same reasoning can be both true and false. Sophistry dealt primarily with rhetorical discourse, although logical discourse is due to the sophists developing a procedure of indirect (apogogical) evidence based on bringing to the absurd. In this proof, position A is proved by refuting the opposite (not-A) with the help of the derivation from it of an impossible, absurd consequence.
The clash with the absurd proves to be the evidence of the truth, the starting point. Here, the absurdity is the countermeasure included in the fabric of indirect evidence. In the emergence and confirmation of apogogical proof and reduction to absurdity as a scientific method, the expansion of discursive practice, the inclusion in it of those forms that developed outside science and were not included in the sphere of philosophical analysis were of great importance: the proof from the opposite and the reduction to absurdity were widely used in Judicial practice and rhetoric of the Sophists and skeptics. The apogogical proof, which arose among the Eleatics and Plato, which became the sophists’ method of proving anything, was included not without resistance into the normal procedures of proof. And yet, precisely because it always encounters the absurd, with the impossible, introduces absurdity into the structure of reasoning, it was estimated lower than the direct proof. Aristotle, while recognizing the significance of indirect evidence, still gives priority to direct proof. Skeptics used indirect proof and reduction to absurdity in order to prove the impossibility of either justification or the existence of scientific knowledge. And yet, the reduction to absurdity and the proof from the contrary have become part of the scientific methods of proof. Euclid widely used the method of indirect proof and reduction to absurdity. There are three types of apogogical evidence in Euclid and, accordingly, three kinds of absurdity, connected with the contradiction:
1) with an already recognized axiom or already proven position,
2) with the hypothesis of the theorem,
3) with the assumption made. Implicit indirect evidence involves the application of the principle of the excluded third. Proof from the contrary and reduction to absurdity played a large role in the establishment of methods of exhaustion (Archimedes, Evdoks).
In medieval philosophy, the absurdity, contradictoriness and paradoxality of rational reasoning were overcome by an act of faith (we can recall the aphorism attributed to Tertullian: “I believe, because it is absurd”, although faith for him is primordial and not connected with the way out of the paradox). Human cognition, if it is not based on revelation and authority, is always believable, conditional and modal. Human reasoning can lead and lead to absurdity and contradictory statements, but the efforts of the human mind are not vain, but rather significant, as long as they delineate and expand the domain of the cognized and cognized. Faith is an act that overcomes the limitations and contradictions of the human mind, but it needs a rational discourse and presupposes it. Faith itself is paradoxical, if it assumes the existence of a quasi-subjectivity of a symbol that has a twofold focus on sacred and at the same time mundane, refers to mythologems (events that exist outside time and are not localized in space-crucifixion, transfiguration, etc.). Anselm of Canterbury, discussing the question of how one can reason about the ineffable, draws attention to the fact that human knowledge, using sensory signs, exists in three forms:
1) designation by a name that is perceived sensually,
2) the notion of a name existing within us in an insensible way,
3) contemplation of a thing through the body image created by the imagination, or through an understanding of the meaning, its universal essence.
Already in that indirect designations “through other”, “through any similarity or image” are used, the possibility of error and the impossible contradiction which is revealed in reasoning and collides with inexplicable, impenetrable, incomprehensible secret is concluded. Anselm distinguishes between the proper and indirect meaning of the word, not identifying the referent with the meaning of the word: the referent refers to the object of speech, the reference value to speech. Therefore, the name of a thing for him is identical with the word used in speech. Peter Abelard, distinguishing between the sensory image of a thing and the concept of it, sees in the concept the activity of the soul, the result of an act of understanding. Reason creates a fictitious, imaginary reality, but you can not like the concept of the sensuous image of a thing. According to Abelard, there are three kinds of meanings:
1) the intellectual, constituted by the mind;
2) imaginary, created by the imagination;
3) the real, which plays a decisive role in distinguishing between meaningful and empty concepts.
In the debate about universals, the confrontation between realism, nominalism and conceptualism, the domain of meaning and, correspondingly, meaningless, was treated differently. In discussing the meaning of the sentence, Abelard draws attention to the fact that his meaning cannot be expressed by some external thing, but is the status of a quasi-thing – the objectified representation given in speech and correlated with the real, possible and impossible state of things.
In the new European philosophy, priority was given to rational discourse and its regulators. The absurd was carried beyond the boundaries of the intellect and was explained by the activity of fantasy. This is connected with the distinction between Descartes and Spinoza of imagination and intellect. Intellect creates absurd, but meaningful expressions that are not correlated with objects. The light of reason penetrates everywhere, leaving no place for everything that is obscure, dark, vague. Since among the procedures of proof priority was given to the direct evidence, the reduction to absurdity and the proof to the contrary are estimated very low. Thus, A.Arno and P. Nicol, opposing evidence through the beginning of the thing and some absurdity, believe that the reduction to absurd and indirect evidence “can convince the mind, but does not enlighten it at all.” “We do not claim that such evidence must be rejected,” but they are “more explanation than a new proof,” an explanation of the existence of a thing, and not an explanation of its causes. In the philosophy of French and German Romanticism, as opposed to the panlogism of Fichte and Hegel, who attempted to include a contradiction previously estimated as absurd, into the structure of speculative-dialectical inference, an irrational principle was introduced, beyond reason (the doctrine of the signatures and hieroglyphics of being in the “magical idealism” of Novalis, thought Schelling about the “dark foundation” rooted in the unconsciousness of God and the soul, in myth, about “baseless”, about the “abyss” of indistinctness and the disappearance of all opposites as the original his being).
In logic and epistemology of the 2nd half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century (H.Sigwarth, J.S.Mill), the problem of the “objectivity” and “pointlessness” of logical acts is discussed, and the distinction is made between absurdity as a lack of meaning and absurdity as non-objectivity. According to Zigwarth, absurd expressions (for example, “round square”) do not make sense and do not correspond with any objects, these are not concepts, but only words that are to be eliminated from science. However, along with these words, not only absurd expressions themselves are eliminated from scientific knowledge, but also indirectly absurd ones, obtained through the procedure of indirect proof. Mill distinguishes between co-signers and non-co-signers (proper names): the former have meaning, the latter do not, but they have a referent. F. Brentano and A. Meinong draw a distinction between objects and pure objects with which the primary acts of experience dealt – representation, thinking, feeling and desire.
G. Frege distinguishes between meaning and meaning. Thus, the logical structure of the meaning is differentiated – subtle divisions are conducted between the levels of objectivity, with which meaningful statements are correlated, and different levels of meaning are identified. E. Husserl, in Logical Research, discussing the problem of meaningful and meaningless expressions, accepts the distinction between the ideal objectness and objects with which the sign relates, but proceeds from the intentionality of acts that attach importance to expression, and makes a further distinction between the expression itself, the meaning intent and the realization completeness of meaning. Usually, the sources of absurdity and meaninglessness of expressions were explained by images of fantasy combined with intelligence. Such an explanation for Husserl is unacceptable because for him the act of understanding the meaning is carried out without contemplation. The meaninglessness, absurdity, absurdity of the expressions are associated with objectively incompatible.
In logic and epistemology of the 20th century, in particular in the verification program, a distinction was made between the object language and the metalanguage, between protocol and meaningless sentences (the judgments of metaphysics were applied to the latter), a test of verifiability was used to determine the meaningfulness of utterances. The purpose of the verification program is to eliminate senseless statements from the language of science, to build an artificial unambiguous language, devoid of meaningless expressions. This radical program was not implemented. In a natural language, absurd, meaningless combinations of words are possible, which indicates its imperfection from a logical point of view. Later (primarily in the analysis of natural language in L. Wittgenstein) the meaning of the expression was identified with its use in the language. And the strict and non-strict (metaphysical) use of expressions was different, the analysis of intensional and extensional contexts was carried out.
Absurd is associated with various types of paradoxes. Criticism of K.Popper of verificationism destroyed previous logical and epistemological divisions and set the falsification program a new benchmark in the demarcation between meaningful and meaningless statements. In modern postmodern philosophy it is realized that absurdity cannot be identified either with the non-objectivity or with the falsity of saying that the distinction between meaning and nonsense cannot be justified by distinguishing truth and falsehood; on the contrary, the truth of the assumption “is measured precisely by meaning, falsity is connected with embodied nonsense” ( Deleuze J. Difference and repetition). J. Deleuze, discussing the problem of absurdity arising in logic, distinguishes between two figures of the nonsense and, respectively, between the two forms of absurdity. Impossible objects (a square circle, a material without a length) do not belong to either real or possible being but belong to the super-existing, where the principle of non-contradiction does not work (Deleuze G. The logic of meaning). For Deleuze, absurdity, nonsense is “like a secret of meaning,” and the mechanism of absurdity is the ultimate goal of meaning. Thus, the more fundamental structures in comparison with truth and falsity are meaning and nonsense.
The turn of logic and epistemology to the problem of meaningfulness of expressions, to the treatment of absurdity as a way of clarifying meaning is connected with the rejection of former oppositions (such as “language-thinking”, “word-concept”, “sign-meaning”) and with the introduction of new, more differentiated oppositions (such as denotation and meaning, meaning and meaning, language and speech, extensional and intensional contexts, concept and concept), different levels of objectivity – from intentional meaning to ideal objectness. With all the increasingly complicated procedures for revealing meaning, the problem of absurdity was considered by the logic only in the context of the meaningfulness of utterances (often narrowing down to the analysis of its subject referents and treating absurdity as non-objectivity), but not as a secret mechanism that allows understanding what is meaning.
In the 20th century, it became clear that the logico-gnoseological aspect of the absurd is important (as long as all the proof procedures from the opposite and the data to the absurd are used in mathematics and scientific knowledge), but not the only aspect of the absurdity problem. The sphere of discourse that turns to the absurd has expanded considerably: not only new forms of speech discourse appeared (primarily the practice of psychoanalytic therapy implemented in the dialogue “doctor-patient”), but also new forms of artistic practices that directly addressed the absurdity as their regulator. After non-objective painting, surreal art emerged (S.Dali, Magritte), the theater of the absurd, absurdist poetry, absurdist cinema, absurdist literature (works by A.Breton, F.Kafka, H.Broch, A.Kamyu, S.Bekket wrapped and others). Absurdist artistic practice, in contrast to the aesthetic canons of rationalism (from Cartesian classicism to naturalistic realism) from the very beginning rejected the means of logic (such as abstract concepts), considering them something artificial, did not accept the correlation of the word even with the image and intentional meaning, denied the mutuality dialogue, turning it into a mix of internally closed monologues; addressed the symbolism of theurgy and the mysteries of Gnosticism, carried out the “installation” of an ordinary thing in unusual contexts, allowing to discover new, unexpected horizons of meaning and to see behind this absurd at first glance context the meaning of the thing itself. Those forms of philosophizing that developed in the 19th century and emphasized the irrationality of life, its original spontaneity, unconsciousness and the lack of control of rationality (S. Kierkegaard, F. Nietzsche, A. Schopenhauer, E. von Hartmann) proved to be in demand in the 20th century.
In the philosophy of the 20th century, the absurdity of life is treated as an ontological fact. Absurdity has become a characteristic of being and not just some forms of judgments and statements. The transfer of the problem of absurdity – from the logical-epistemological plane to the ontology plane – was carried out by L.Shestov, A.Bergson, G.Simmel, T.Lessing, and is interpreted as absurd primarily by A.Kamyu. In the “Myth of Sisyphus” (subtitled “The Essay on the Absurd”), Camus proceeds from the absurdity of existence, which does not at all require that she flee to hope or suicide. Absurdity reveals itself in boredom, in a person’s perception of the alienation of the world, in disgust, anxiety, lostness, an anonymous existence, in the sense of despair. Camus emphasizes that absurdity is the only given (Camus A. The rebellious man) that the world is irrational, and the rebellion against it is just as absurd.
Stating the absurdity and at the same time the greatness of human destiny, Camus emphasizes that it is necessary to follow not the logic, but the voice of conscience, that already the realization of the absurdity of life is a step on the way to constructing one’s sense. If in the Myth of Sisyphus, Camus emphasized the absurdity of being, then in the “Rebel man” he reveals the inconsistency of absurdity, which leads to the rejection of the choice of values (life is self-valuable and consists in the continuous choice of values), to silence, brings connectivity into incoherence, “to a dead end. The emphasis shifts to a riot, which “is engendered by the realization of the seen meaninglessness, the realization of the incomprehensible and unjust fate of the human”. M. Heidegger, wishing to emphasize the uncontrollability of human existence to reason, calls existential the a priori structures of existence, such as caring, fear, being-in-the-world, mood and others. According to K. Jaspers, who stressed the tragic discord between man and the world, absurdity is found in border situations.