page 1 of 2
The absurd man demands certainty above all else, and recognizes that he can only be certain of the absurd. The only truth about himself that remains constant is his desire for unity, reason, and clarity, and the only truth about the world that seems certain is that it conforms to no obvious shape or pattern. There may be a meaning to life, but there is no sure way of knowing what this meaning is. The absurd man wants to live only with what he can be sure of.
The absurd is this conflict created between human reason and an unreasonable universe, and it exists only so long as one is consciously aware of it. In order to cling to the absurd, then, the absurd man must maintain conscious awareness of this conflict within him without trying to overcome it. Camus identifies three consequences of trying to live with the absurd: revolt, freedom, and passion.
Camus firmly counters the notion that a proper acceptance of the absurd entails suicide. On the contrary, he suggests, accepting the absurd is a matter of living life to its fullest, remaining aware that we are reasonable human beings condemned to live a short time in an unreasonable world and then to die. We remain aware of the conflict between our desire and reality, and so living the absurd is living in a constant state of conflict. It is a revolt against the meaninglessness of our life and the finality of the death that awaits us. Suicide, like hope, is just another way out of this conflict. Living the absurd is more akin to the predicament faced by the man condemned to death yet who, with every breath, revolts against the notion that he must die.
We generally live with the idea of freedom—that we are free to make our own decisions and to define ourselves by our actions. With this idea of freedom comes the idea that we can give our lives direction, and then aim toward certain goals. In doing so, however, we confine ourselves to living toward certain goals—to playing out a certain role. We might see ourselves as the good mother, the charming seducer, or the hard-working citizen, and our actions will be determined by this self-image we create. This idea of freedom is a metaphysical one: it claims that the universe and human nature are such that we can choose our own course. The absurd man is determined to reject everything he cannot know with certainty, and metaphysical freedom is no more certain than a meaning of life. The only freedom the absurd man can know is the freedom he experiences: the freedom to think and to act as he chooses. By abandoning the idea that he has some role to fulfill, the absurd man attains the freedom of taking each moment of life as it strikes him, free of preconceptions or prejudices.
In abandoning the idea of there being any meaning to life, the absurd man also abandons any notion of values. If there is no meaning or purpose to what we do, there is no reason for doing one thing rather than another. That being the case, we can apply no standard of quality to our experiences. Instead, we can apply only a standard of quantity: the more one experiences the better. By quantity of experience, Camus doesn't mean a long life so much as he means the passion of a full life. A person who is aware of each passing moment will experience more than someone who is otherwise preoccupied will. The absurd man is determined to live in the present.
Camus applies a kind of skepticism that has been prevalent in Western philosophy since Descartes, but he applies it in a very peculiar way. He follows Descartes's lead in doubting every proposition that he cannot know with certainty, but unlike Descartes, he does not follow up his skepticism with an attempt to re-establish metaphysical knowledge on more certain grounds. Instead, he observes that philosophers generally seem to be unable to agree on metaphysical questions, and takes that as a reason to doubt metaphysics generally. Following Descartes's lead, Camus does demand certainty, but he decides that there is no certainty to be found in metaphysics.
Take a Study Break!