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Albert Camus — was a journalist, editor and editorialist, playwright and director, novelist and author of short stories, political essayist and activist—and, although he more than once denied it, a philosopher. He ignored or opposed systematic philosophy, had little faith in rationalism, asserted rather than argued many of his main ideas, presented others in metaphors, was preoccupied with immediate and personal experience, and brooded over such questions as the meaning of life in the face of death.
And his philosophy of the absurd has left us with a striking image of the human fate: Sisyphus endlessly pushing his rock up the mountain only to see it roll back down each time he gains the top. It also embroiled him in conflict with his friend, Jean-Paul Sartre, provoking the major political-intellectual divide of the Cold-War era as Camus and Sartre became, respectively, the leading intellectual voices of the anti-Communist and pro-Communist left.
Furthermore, in posing and answering urgent philosophical questions of the day, Camus articulated a critique of religion and of the Enlightenment and all its projects, including Marxism.
In he won the Nobel Prize for literature. He died in a car accident in January, , at the age of In his book-length essay, The Myth of Sisyphus , Camus presents a philosophy that contests philosophy itself. This essay belongs squarely in the philosophical tradition of existentialism but Camus denied being an existentialist. Both The Myth of Sisyphus and his other philosophical work, The Rebel , are systematically skeptical of conclusions about the meaning of life, yet both works assert objectively valid answers to key questions about how to live.
Though Camus seemed modest when describing his intellectual ambitions, he was confident enough as a philosopher to articulate not only his own philosophy but also a critique of religion and a fundamental critique of modernity. While rejecting the very idea of a philosophical system, Camus constructed his own original edifice of ideas around the key terms of absurdity and rebellion, aiming to resolve the life-or-death issues that motivated him.
Since existence itself has no meaning, we must learn to bear an irresolvable emptiness. This paradoxical situation, then, between our impulse to ask ultimate questions and the impossibility of achieving any adequate answer, is what Camus calls the absurd.
Like Sisyphus, humans cannot help but continue to ask after the meaning of life, only to see our answers tumble back down. If life has no fundamental purpose or meaning that reason can articulate, we cannot help asking about why we continue to live and to reason. Might not Silenus be right in declaring that it would have been better not to have been born, or to die as soon as possible?
Was Camus actually a philosopher? Still, Jean-Paul Sartre saw immediately that Camus was undertaking important philosophical work, and in his review of The Stranger in relation to Sisyphus , had no trouble connecting Camus with Pascal, Rousseau, and Nietzsche Sartre In the years since, the apparent unsystematic, indeed, anti-systematic, character of his philosophy, has meant that relatively few scholars have appreciated its full depth and complexity.
They have more often praised his towering literary achievements and standing as a political moralist while pointing out his dubious claims and problematic arguments see Sherman It is not just a matter of giving a philosophical reading of this playwright, journalist, essayist, and novelist but of taking his philosophical writings seriously—exploring their premises, their evolution, their structure, and their coherence.
To do so is to see that his writing contains more than a mood and more than images and sweeping, unsupported assertions, although it contains many of both. Camus takes his skepticism as far as possible as a form of methodical doubt—that is, he begins from a presumption of skepticism—until he finds the basis for a non-skeptical conclusion. And he builds a unique philosophical construction, whose premises are often left unstated and which is not always argued clearly, but which develops in distinct stages over the course of his brief lifetime.
Nevertheless, his philosophy explicitly rejects religion as one of its foundations. Not always taking an openly hostile posture towards religious belief—though he certainly does in the novels The Stranger and The Plague —Camus centers his work on choosing to live without God.
Yet these experiences are presented as the solution to a philosophical problem, namely finding the meaning of life in the face of death. They appear alongside, and reveal themselves to be rooted in, his first extended meditation on ultimate questions. In these essays, Camus sets two attitudes in opposition. The first is what he regards as religion-based fears. Against this conventional Christian perspective Camus asserts what he regards as self-evident facts: that we must die and there is nothing beyond this life.
Without mentioning it, Camus draws a conclusion from these facts, namely that the soul is not immortal. Here, as elsewhere in his philosophical writing, he commends to his readers to face a discomforting reality squarely and without flinching, but he does not feel compelled to present reasons or evidence. If not with religion, where then does wisdom lie? There is nothing but this world, this life, the immediacy of the present.
Hope is the error Camus wishes to avoid. But why, we may ask, is hope an evil? Nietzsche explains that humans have come to see hope as their greatest good, while Zeus, knowing better, has meant it as the greatest source of trouble. For Camus, following this reading of Nietzsche closely, the conventional solution is in fact the problem: hope is disastrous for humans inasmuch as it leads them to minimize the value of this life except as preparation for a life beyond.
If religious hope is based on the mistaken belief that death, in the sense of utter and total extinction body and soul, is not inevitable, it leads us down a blind alley. Worse, because it teaches us to look away from life toward something to come afterwards, such religious hope kills a part of us, for example, the realistic attitude we need to confront the vicissitudes of life.
But what then is the appropriate path? The young Camus is neither a skeptic nor a relativist here. His discussion rests on the self-evidence of sensuous experience. He advocates precisely what he takes Christianity to abjure: living a life of the senses, intensely, here and now, in the present. This entails, first, abandoning all hope for an afterlife, indeed rejecting thinking about it.
Only if we accept that Nietzsche is right, that God is dead and there is only nothingness after we die, will we then fully experience—feel, taste, touch, see, and smell—the joys of our bodies and the physical world.
Thus the sensuous and lyrical side of these essays, their evocative character, is central to the argument. Or rather, because Camus is promoting intense, joyous, physical experience as opposed to a self-abnegating religious life, rather than developing an argument he asserts that these experiences are the right response.
But they suggest what philosophy is for Camus and how he conceives its relationship to literary expression. The intense and glistening present tells us that we can fully experience and appreciate life only on the condition that we no longer try to avoid our ultimate and absolute death. After completing Nuptials , Camus began to work on a planned triptych on the Absurd: a novel, which became The Stranger , a philosophical essay, eventually titled The Myth of Sisyphus , and a play, Caligula.
These were completed and sent off from Algeria to the Paris publisher in September Although Camus would have preferred to see them appear together, even in a single volume, the publisher for both commercial reasons and because of the paper shortage caused by war and occupation, released The Stranger in June and The Myth of Sisyphus in October. Camus kept working on the play, which finally appeared in book form two years later Lottman, — Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy.
For him, it seems clear that the primary result of philosophy is action, not comprehension. Camus sees this question of suicide as a natural response to an underlying premise, namely that life is absurd in a variety of ways. As we have seen, both the presence and absence of life i. But Camus also thinks it absurd to try to know, understand, or explain the world, for he sees the attempt to gain rational knowledge as futile. Accepting absurdity as the mood of the times, he asks above all whether and how to live in the face of it.
But he does not argue this question either, and rather chooses to demonstrate the attitude towards life that would deter suicide. In other words, the main concern of the book is to sketch ways of living our lives so as to make them worth living despite their being meaningless.
But if this temptation precedes what is usually considered philosophical reasoning, how to answer it? In order to get to the bottom of things while avoiding arguing for the truth of his statements, he depicts, enumerates, and illustrates. Appealing to common experience, he tries to render the flavor of the absurd with images, metaphors, and anecdotes that capture the experiential level he regards as lying prior to philosophy.
As this continues, one slowly becomes fully conscious and senses the absurd. Camus goes on to sketch other experiences of absurdity, until he arrives at death. Our efforts to understand them lead nowhere.
Avi Sagi suggests that in claiming this Camus is not speaking as an irrationalist—which is, after all, how he regards the existentialists—but as someone trying to rationally understand the limits of reason Sagi , 59— For Camus the problem is that by demanding meaning, order, and unity, we seek to go beyond those limits and pursue the impossible.
We will never understand, and we will die despite all our efforts. There are two obvious responses to our frustrations: suicide and hope. By hope Camus means just what he described in Nuptials , the religion-inspired effort to imagine and live for a life beyond this life. What is the Camusean alternative to suicide or hope? In short, he recommends a life without consolation, but instead one characterized by lucidity and by acute consciousness of and rebellion against its mortality and its limits.
At the same time Camus argues against the specific philosophical current with which Nietzsche is often linked as a precursor, and to which he himself is closest—existentialism. The Myth of Sisyphus is explicitly written against existentialists such as Shestov, Kierkegaard, Jaspers, and Heidegger, as well as against the phenomenology of Husserl.
Camus shares their starting point, which he regards as the fact that they all somehow testify to the absurdity of the human condition. In the process, the absurdity of Nausea becomes the contingency of Being and Nothingness , the fact that humans and things are simply there with no explanation or reason. Having rooted human existence in such contingency, Sartre goes on to describe other fundamental structures of existence, core human projects, and characteristic patterns of behavior, including freedom and bad faith, all of which arise on this basis.
For Sartre absurdity is obviously a fundamental ontological property of existence itself, frustrating us but not restricting our understanding. For Camus, on the other hand, absurdity is not a property of existence as such, but is an essential feature of our relationship with the world. Camus, on the contrary, builds an entire worldview on his central assumption that absurdity is an unsurpassable relationship between humans and their world Aronson As discussed above, Camus views the world as irrational, which means that it is not understandable through reason.
According to Camus, each existentialist writer betrayed his initial insight by seeking to appeal to something beyond the limits of the human condition, by turning to the transcendent. And yet even if we avoid what Camus describes as such escapist efforts and continue to live without irrational appeals, the desire to do so is built into our consciousness and thus our humanity. But it is urgent to not succumb to these impulses and to instead accept absurdity.
These philosophers, he insists, refuse to accept the conclusions that follow from their own premises. Kierkegaard, for example, strongly senses the absurd.
But rather than respecting it as the inevitable human ailment, he seeks to be cured of it by making it an attribute of a God who he then embraces. Along with Sartre, Camus praises the early Husserlian notion of intentionality.
The Myth of Sisyphus finds the answer by abandoning the terrain of philosophy altogether. After the dense and highly self-conscious earlier chapters, these pages condense the entire line of thought into a vivid image. For Camus, Sisyphus reminds us that we cannot help seeking to understand the reality that transcends our intelligence, striving to grasp more than our limited and practical scientific understanding allows, and wishing to live without dying. Like Sisyphus, we are our fate, and our frustration is our very life: we can never escape it.
But there is more. After the rock comes tumbling down, confirming the ultimate futility of his project, Sisyphus trudges after it once again.
The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays Quotes
Albert Camus — was a journalist, editor and editorialist, playwright and director, novelist and author of short stories, political essayist and activist—and, although he more than once denied it, a philosopher. He ignored or opposed systematic philosophy, had little faith in rationalism, asserted rather than argued many of his main ideas, presented others in metaphors, was preoccupied with immediate and personal experience, and brooded over such questions as the meaning of life in the face of death. And his philosophy of the absurd has left us with a striking image of the human fate: Sisyphus endlessly pushing his rock up the mountain only to see it roll back down each time he gains the top. It also embroiled him in conflict with his friend, Jean-Paul Sartre, provoking the major political-intellectual divide of the Cold-War era as Camus and Sartre became, respectively, the leading intellectual voices of the anti-Communist and pro-Communist left. Furthermore, in posing and answering urgent philosophical questions of the day, Camus articulated a critique of religion and of the Enlightenment and all its projects, including Marxism. In he won the Nobel Prize for literature. He died in a car accident in January, , at the age of
De mythe van Sisyphus: een essay over het absurde
The English translation by Justin O'Brien was first published in The work can be seen in relation to other absurdist works by Camus: the novel The Stranger , the plays The Misunderstanding and Caligula , and especially the essay The Rebel Camus began work in , during the fall of France , when millions of refugees fled from advancing German armies. This helped him in understanding the absurd, although the essay rarely refers to this event. Camus states that "even if one does not believe in God, suicide is not legitimate. The essay is dedicated to Pascal Pia and is organized in four chapters and one appendix.