Albert Camus talks about the Absurd in his work, The Myth of Sisyphus and notes that the concept of Absurdity is not original to him. What is original to his philosophy is that he considers the Absurd to be the beginning of his philosophy (rather than the end, as in most other philosophies). Also, even though the concept of the Absurd is an idea that is accepted among French philosophers, Camus does not bother to go into an argument about proving it exists. For him, as well as other scholars, it is quite evident that it does. So what is “The Absurd” anyway?
For Camus, the way of the world is not absurd. Camus defines the absurd as the relationship that people have with the world. He believes this relationship is absurd because the world puts out questions in the relationship that have no answers. He states that the absurd relationship between human beings and the world “is that divorce between the mind that desires and the world that disappoints, my nostalgia for unity, this fragmented universe and the contradiction that binds them together” (pg. 37). What he means is that human beings receive a bunch of empty replies from the world about the nature of their existence. He gives the example of people trying to find order in the world and not being able to find any order at all. No answers are provided to us. We ask how to solve the problem of evil in the world, and we find out that goodness in the world isn’t even guaranteed (Denton, 1967). It is in this frustrating relationship that we have with nature that forces us to be tense and, in that, confrontation is a constant theme.
As he ponders the nature of the Absurd, Camus has one question – how do we live within this absurd relationship we have with the world? Once a person becomes aware that this absurd relationship exists, he or she is faced with the quandary – is life worth living? At some point, according to Camus, a person will wake up from day to day life and realize the world provides no answers to the questions he or she has for it. Innocent people continue to suffer. Prayers go unanswered. Except for the present moment, the world guarantees nothing. As people begin to realize this reality, they begin to wonder whether they should live or die. Once they realize they must make a decision about living or dying, people will feel many things – sadness, scorn, and even joy, but most of all, they will feel futility. However, within this quandary, most people will realize that their lives are their own, and they will choose to continue life. When they make this conscious choice, a passion for life will ensue, and the way they experience the world will be richer. For Camus, the most important and enduring emotion from this decision will be joy!
The ultimate point about this realization of the absurd is responsibility, what Camus calls Rebellion. In essence, because people are trapped in this absurd relationship with the world without the desire to escape (die), they must realize that they are called to change the world. In consciously choosing to live life (and, in this realization, living it fully), people have a calling to make life worth living. That’s quite a responsibility, but it makes sense! What is the point of living if you never make a difference? The meaning of life is changing our relationship with the world. So what legacy does your life leave when you are gone? If you choose to live, how will you make it a purposeful life?
Camus, A. (1956). The rebel: An essay on man in revolt. New York: Random House.
Camus, A. (1959). The myth of Sisyphus. New York: Random House.
Camus, A. (1960). Resistance, rebellion, and death. New York: Random House.
Denton, D. E. (1967). The philosophy of Albert Camus: A critical analysis. Boston, MA: Prime Publishers.
Levoy, G. (1997). Callings: Finding and following an authentic life path. New York: Three Rivers Press.