The Myth of Sisyphus


An Absurd Reasoning: Philosophical Suicide

Summary An Absurd Reasoning: Philosophical Suicide

Camus reduces the problem that interests him to two basic facts: first, that man expects and hopes to find some sort of meaning in the world, and second, that whatever meaning the world may have is concealed from man. It is important to note that Camus does not deny that God exists or that there is some inherent meaning or purpose behind everything. He simply claims that he has no way of knowing whether or not there is a God or meaning or purpose. His aim in The Myth of Sisyphus is to determine whether or not it is possible to live simply with what he knows. That is, can he live with those two basic facts, or does he need either to hope for something more (a God or meaning or purpose) or to commit suicide?

The absurd is the relationship that links these two basic facts. It is absurd that I should expect the universe to have a meaning when the universe itself is so resolutely silent. Because the absurd is the relationship that links the only two basic facts we can know for certain, Camus asserts that the absurd is our fundamental relationship with the world. The absurd is a fundamental truth and Camus takes it as his duty to follow out its logic.

The absurd is also essentially a conflict. We demand meaning but the universe gives us none. The dissatisfaction we feel with our lot in life is fundamental to the absurd, and any attempt to resolve this dissatisfaction is an attempt to escape from absurdity.

Camus's complaint against the four thinkers discussed in this chapter is that, each in his own way attempts to escape from absurdity. To do this, each thinker must reject one of the two basic facts that Camus has taken as his starting point. Jaspers, Chestov, and Kierkegaard reject the need for reason and purpose in the world. They embrace the idea that the world is irrational, and find God in this idea. Husserl rejects the idea that we cannot find meaning in the world, claiming to find essences behind its mute phenomena.

Camus is not a philosopher, and he is not accusing these thinkers of reasoning wrongly. He is simply accusing them of not finding content in what they can know. All four go beyond the basic, undeniable facts of experience to assert that there is something more, something transcendent, something that resolves the dissatisfaction caused by their confrontation with the absurd. They are not mistaken in doing so, but they are avoiding the question that seems to Camus to be fundamental: do we need to assert that there is something more in order to live? Camus's problem is a hypothetical one: if there is nothing more than rational humans in an irrational universe, can we live with the absurdity of that situation?

The route Camus takes here is committed to shunning philosophy. He purports to be interested only in whether a certain proposition is livable, not whether it is true. If he were to try to assert his own metaphysical position, if he were to try to claim that such-and-such is the case, he would then be burdened with the responsibility of proving the superiority of his metaphysical position over those of other philosophers.

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