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The Myth of Sisyphus

Albert Camus

The Absurd Man: Don Juanism

Summary The Absurd Man: Don Juanism


Throughout the first part, we have seen that Camus's discussion can only be called "philosophy" in the loosest sense of that word: he seems to have little interest in arguing for the positions he takes, and is not primarily concerned with whether or not his assertions are true. His interest is in the art of living, and throughout the first part, his investigation is constantly directed not by a search for truth but by a search for a way of life that does not rely on metaphysical speculation. His primary interest is how to live, and it is only natural that he should then turn to a practical discussion of the absurd life, as he does in this section.

The difference between the absurd man and the rest of mankind is not so much a matter of outward actions but of the inward attitude he takes toward his actions. The difference, it seems, between Don Juan and an ordinary seducer, is not so much a difference in behavior as a difference in their attitude toward their behavior. One might lay on a run-of-the-mill seducer all the accusations that Camus defends Don Juan against. The significant difference, it would seem, is that for Don Juan there is nothing beyond the seduction. Don Juan does not seduce women in the hope of finding love or of easing his melancholy: he seduces for the joy of seducing. Don Juan is an absurd man in that he acknowledges that his life is meaningless and that his actions have no significance beyond their consequences in this life.

Camus characterizes the absurd man as essentially innocent, a term he probably uses in contrast to the Christian concept of sin. According to Catholic doctrine, we are all born sinners, stamped with the original sin of Adam and Eve. A Christian lives with a constant awareness of sin and guilt, and works to earn forgiveness and entrance into the kingdom of heaven. The Christian life thus focuses on a cosmic struggle between our inherent evil and our capacity for good. The innocence of the absurd man, however, negates any awareness of sin or guilt. A fear of divine judgment or a sense of a cosmic struggle between good and evil does not overshadow his actions and decisions. There are no internal checks to prevent him from doing what he wants. In this sense, the innocence of the absurd man also entails a kind of integrity. He is able to lead a life that is consistent with his interests and desires. He does not need any kind of moral code beyond "what I like is good and what I dislike is bad."

In the absence of a moral code, there is nothing to stop people from behaving in a criminal or harmful manner, but Camus does not take this to be much of a problem, even though perhaps he should. His focus is on the inward attitude that the absurd man takes toward his actions, and not on what these actions might be. By demonstrating his concept of the absurd man through a series of examples, he avoids facing the question of how an absurd life might realize itself. Could a serial killer live an absurd life? Isn't it possible to kill just as Don Juan seduces, free from moral qualms and guilt? And if this is so, what reservations might this give us about Camus's philosophy of the absurd? Camus seems to think that an absurd man would be no more harmful than an ordinary person, but he never gives any compelling reasons for why this should be the case.

This ideal of living outside any kind of moral code owes a great deal to ##Nietzsche##, who coined the notion of living "beyond good and evil," of living outside of a moral code. Though Camus differs greatly from Nietzsche in terms of his style, his preoccupations, and his ultimate conclusions, the direction of his thought bears Nietzsche's distinct imprint. Camus's concept of the absurd is quite similar to what Nietzsche characterized as "nihilism," and his absurd man is similar in many ways to Nietzsche's concept of the "free spirit."

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