Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

Philosopher in ancient Greece whose works had enormous and long-lasting influence in not just in philosophy, but also subjects including ethics, logic, biology, zoology, physics, politics, poetry, music, and drama—and whose greatest intellectual contribution is likely to have set the foundations for the study of science itself. Camus evokes Aristotle to show on a logical level the problems with asserting a single, unified "truth."

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

Influential German philosopher of the 20th century whose ideas are normally associated with existentialism. Camus counts Heidegger as one of the many thinkers who have tried to confront the irrationality of experience rather than deny it. Heidegger speaks of our anguish when confronted with the absurd, but asserts that we find our greatest alertness in this anguish. 

Karl Jaspers (1883-1969)

German-Swiss philosopher and psychiatrist who asserts that we cannot know anything that goes beyond immediate experience and exposes the flaws of philosophical systems that claim otherwise. 

Lev Shestov (1886-1938)

Russian existentialist and religious philosopher. Shestov examines human irrationality, and is more interested in seeking out the exception than the rule. 

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Danish theologian, philosopher, poet, social critic, and religious author. For Camus, Kierkegaard essentially lives the absurd, fearlessly diving into all sorts of contradictions. 

Edmund Husserl (1859-1938)

Austrian-German philosopher and mathematician who established the school of phenomenology. Husserl’s work is interested in the diversity of the world, and encourages full and equal awareness of all phenomena. 

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

French playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. Sartre was a contemporary and sometime friend of Camus's, as well as the main proponent of existentialism as a movement. Though he borrowed the name from Karl Jaspers's existenz-philosophie and many ideas from Heidegger, neither of these German thinkers considered themselves existentialists. While Kierkegaard or Nietzsche are sometimes called "proto-existentialists," they lived and died in the 19th century, before the term existentialism had currency. Even Camus would later disown himself from this movement, leaving only Sartre as a committed "existentialist."


A figure from Greek Mythology, Sisyphus is probably most famous for his punishment in the underworld. According to the Greek myth, Sisyphus is condemned to roll a rock up to the top of a mountain, only to have the rock roll back down to the bottom every time he reaches the top. The gods were wise, Camus suggests, in perceiving that an eternity of futile labor is a hideous punishment.

Popular pages: The Myth of Sisyphus