ABSURD (Greek α-τοπος [átopos]; Latin ab-surdus — giving a disagreeable sound, meaningless, irrational, internally contradictory, not in the right place) — in ordinary language the absurd is something nonsensical, a patently false statement, something that contradicts common sense; in philosophy and logic the absurd means a rejection of the principle of non-contradiction which states that "it is impossible for the same attribute at once to belong and not to belong to the same thing and in the same relation" (Met., 1005 b 20-21) or "that one and the same thing cannot at one and the same time be and not be, nor admit of any other similar pair of opposites." (Met, 1061 b 36).
We may speak of the absurd or absurdity in various domains of life and action: in philosophy, science, art, religion and ethics. The absurd may also be understood in a positive sense. In the latter case, the absurd appears as a defined status of being — as something "tragic" or "split within" that man experiences and which is the object of the "philosophy of the absurd".
THE ABSURD IN METAPHYSICS designates, among other things, the acceptance of contradiction as a mode of things' existence; the identification of being with non-being; limiting onself to secondary causes when providing an ultimate analysis; the explanation of a being's existence by resorting to non-being. Metaphysical absurdity concerns the existence of things. The primary source of absurdity in a metaphysical sense is the rejection of the transcendental (or universal) properties of being, such as: to be one, separate, truth, good and beauty, and the rejection of the universal laws that govern the existence of things, such as: identity, non-contradiction, rationality and finality, and replacing these laws with their opposite, such as: contradiction, vagueness, accidentality, falsehood, evil, ugliness. As an example of an absurd statement, Aristotle mentions the statement "that a particular house exists apart from particular houses", or that there is some "one essence for all things, for example, of men" (ibid., 999 b 21-22), or when we hold that "originally everything was a mixture" (ibid., 989 a 34), or that "it is possible at the same time to assert and deny one and the same thing" (ibid., 995 b 10), or when we say that for a concrete thing there is an essence which is different from it. Then, "there will be another essence besides the original one, e.g., the essence of "horse" will have a further essence" (ibid., 1031 b 29-31).
We should distinguish what is accidental from the absurd in the metaphysical sense. An accident is defined as something that arises without being intended for any purpose (e.g., the material removed when making a statue or shavings when cutting wood). "Accidents" are not absurd, since they do not imply any contradiction.
Another source of metaphysical absurdity besides the rejection of the universal validity of the principles of identity and non-contradiction, is when one fails to see or is ignorant of the difference in being between the designates of affirmative propositions and negative propositions. The former may at least occasionally refer to real beings, but the latter never refer to real beings. For example, the name "John" may have a real designate in "this here existing John", but the negation of this name, does not in any case "non-John" possess a real designate. It is the same situation with the expressions: "existing John" and "non-existent John", etc..
The acceptance of absurdity in the existence of things leads to the elimination of any difference between what is real and what is fictional, between being and non-being, existence and non-existence. The world would create metaphysical absurdities such as square circles or different types of non-beings. Besides John there would be some "non-John", and all negations would have objective counterparts.
THE ABSURD IN SCIENCE AND SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE appears when order is explained in terms of disorder, rationality in terms of irrationality, the existence of the world in terms of accident or the ensemble of secondary causes, and such an explanation is taken as scientific. Aristotle had a negative evaluation of such an attitude in knowledge. He observed that a man who rejects the principle of non-contradiction, that being cannot arise from non-being, or order from disorder, is like a plant, a being who knows and understands nothing (Met., 1006 a). A consent to absurdity in knowledge leads to nihilism and the self-destruction of knowledge.
THE ABSURD IN ART results from the destruction of any difference between beauty and ugliness, between kitsch and true artistic work. Anything that is made is granted the rank of a work of art. This happens because beauty has been separated from being and transferred to the realm of "products-ideas" that are governed by their own laws. The result is such absurdities as the "beauty of kitsch" or the "beauty of ugliness" etc..
THE ABSURD IN ETHICS leads to the levelling of any difference between good and evil. Every moral act is marked by an internal contradiction at its foundation and is simultaneously good and evil. The consequence of the acceptance of absurdity is at all morality is destroyed and human life is placed in a position "beyond good and evil".
THE ABSURD IN RELIGION appears when God is identified with the world, the sacred is identified with the profane, faith is identified with atheism, or when immortality is ascribed to what is mortal, eternity to what is contingent, and perfection to what is limited and imperfect. The source of religious absurdities is an unlimited "will to power" in man. This will to power manifests its autonomy and force in the "will to absurdities".
By agreeing to absurdity in life, action, knowledge and production, man is expressing that fact that he has broken faith with himself. Man by nature is a rational being and is actualized by discovering the reason for his existence and the reason for the existence of the world that surrounds him. When he discovers the reason for the existence and activity of things, he removes absurdity and encounters the truth, goodness and beauty of beings.
THE ABSURD IN CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHICAL MOVEMENTS appears in a positive sense and designates a problem that is difficult to conceive or which exceeds our human ability to understand something, and it also designates something that is an object of faith alone. This is vividly expressed in the famous expression attributed to Tertullian: credo quia absurdum.
In existentialism (J.P. Sartre, A. Camus) the absurd designates a situation of "disruption", "the continuous and irremovable conflict" between life and death, love and hatred, good and evil, in which it has been man's lot to live and which cannot be removed from his life. This appears in connection with the so-called philosophy of the absurd, sometimes called the philosophy of nihilism. One principle of the philosophy of the absurd is that the most real and true among all the things that exist among us is "to be nothing". This principle proclaims the collapse of all the foundations of being and meaning (this is expressed by Nietzsche's expressions: "God is dead" and "all values must be transvaluated"); it also proclaims the rejection of any teleology and rationality in the world (blind chance rules everything), and that all axiological and logical judgments, positive or negative, have the same value. Nietzsche wrote: "The lie is necessary to us to achieve victory over this reality, this truth, which means, the lie is necessary for us in order to live […]. Metaphysics, morality, religion and science are regarded […] only as different kinds of lies: with their help people believe in life […]. The lie is power" (Pisma pozostałe [The other writings], 1876–1889, 255–256). Absurdity in the philosophy of nihilism is expressed in the fact that it is a philosophy that leads to the destruction of truth as a property of being. This comes from the conviction that everything that exists deserves death by annihilation. Since this annihilation cannot be performed in the world of real things, this process is transferred to the domain of thought and cognition. In this way the philosophy of the absurd reaches its fulfillment.
THE ABSURD IN LOGIC is a well-constructed expression that is internally contradictory. Nonsense and falsehood should be distinguished from logical absurdity. Nonsense is a statement marked by syntactic disorder, badly constructed and meaningless. It cannot even be said that a nonsensical statement is internally contradictory. In turn falsehood is disagreement with reality and not internal contradiction. Not every false statement is absurd.
In logic the absurd is associated with the conception of indirect proof, one of the basic ways for proving statements (probatio per absurdum). It is also associated with reduction to the absurd (reductio ad absurdum) which enables the logician to reject propositions. In the first case a negation of the statement that is to be proved is assumed, and from the negation an absurdity is deduced (or a pair of sentences that contradict each other). This provides grounds for recognizing the statement as proven. In the case of reduction to the absurd, the inference of an absurdity from a statement leads to the rejection of that statement.
The following schemas of inference are the formal counterparts of the above presented methods of reasoning:
M. Dorolle, La valeur des conclusions par l'absurde RPhF (1918), 309-313; F. Enriques, Sul procedimento di reduzione all'assurdo, Bollettino della Società Mathesis (1919); R. Verneaux, De L'absurde, in: L'existencialisme, P 1947, 165-197; A. Pastore, La volontà dell'assurdo. Storia e crisi dell'esistenzialismo, Tn 1948; S. Cantaro, El absurdismo o filosofia del absurdo, Universidata-Argentina (1952), 157-185; Aristotle, Kategorie, Hermeneutyka (Categories, Peri Hermeneias), Wwa 1975; L. Borkowski, Logika formalna (Formal logic, Wwa 1970, 19772; T. Kotarbiński, Elementy teorii poznania, logiki formalnej i metodologii nauk [Elements of the theory of cognition, formal logic and the methodology of the sciences], Wwa 1947, Wr 19904; F. Nietzsche, Pisma pozostał 1876-1889 [Other writings], Kr 1994, 255-256; Aristotle, Metafizyka [Metaphysics], I-II, Lb 1996; V. Possenti, Il nichilismo teoretico e la morte della metafisica", R 1995 (Nihilizm teoretyczny i "śmierć metafizyki"), Lb 1998.
Andrzej Maryniarczyk, Marek Lechniak