Absurdity derives from the comparison or juxtaposition of two incompatible ideas. For instance, we would say "that's absurd" if someone suggested that a perfectly honest and virtuous man secretly lusts for his sister. We would be juxtaposing the two incompatible ideas of the virtuous man on the one hand and the man with the incestuous lust on the other hand. The concept of the absurd as Camus has been discussing it also consists of such juxtaposition. We are faced on one hand with man, who wants to find reason and unity in the universe, and on the other hand with the universe, that provides him with nothing but mute and meaningless phenomena. As such, the absurd does not exist either in man or in the universe, but in the confrontation between the two. We are only faced with the absurd when we take both our need for answers and the world's silence together.

In order to determine what follows from our absurd relationship with the universe we must not reject the absurd. If we try to reconcile the conflict between our need for answers and the world's silence we will be evading the absurd rather than confronting it. Camus characterizes our confrontation with the absurd with an absence of hope, continual rejection, and conscious dissatisfaction. Living with this conflict is neither pleasant nor easy, but trying to overcome the conflict does not answer so much as it negates the problem of the absurd. Camus is interested in whether we can live with the feeling of absurdity, not whether we can overcome it.

Camus remarks that existential philosophers generally try to evade this confrontation with the absurd. Jaspers claims to find transcendence, by means of a totally illogical leap, just at the point where reason breaks down. Chestov asserts that the absurd is God, suggesting that we need God only to help us deal with the impossible and incomprehensible. Kierkegaard is famous for making the "leap of faith" into God, where he identifies the irrational with faith and with God. Husserl is a more complicated case, as his phenomenology, which deals only with direct experience, seems to embrace the absurd, but he then tries to associate some sort of transcendental essences with the simple phenomena that he discusses.

Camus is clear that he does not intend to discuss the thought of these philosophers as a whole, but simply their encounter with the absurd. Each one of them tries somehow to resolve the conflict between human reason and an irrational universe in one way or another. Jaspers, Chestov, and Kierkegaard, all in their own way, deny human reason and fully embrace an irrational universe, associating that with God. Husserl tries to deny the irrationality of the universe by finding reason in the phenomena of direct experience. As Camus has already noted, the absurd can only exist in the conflict between human reason and an irrational universe, and all four thinkers try to diffuse this conflict by negating one of the terms of the conflict.

Existential philosophers try to find some sort of transcendence in the absurd itself. Camus insists that the logic of the absurd demands that there be no reconciliation or transcendence. These philosophers try to wriggle away from the logic posed to them by the absurd, and, as such, they commit "philosophical suicide."


Camus is not a philosopher and he is not interested in engaging the aforementioned thinkers in an intellectual debate. As in the previous chapter, where he rejected rationalism, Camus is not trying to refute these thinkers. He does not give us arguments as to why their thinking is askew, but simply gives us reasons as to why he finds their thinking unsatisfying.


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