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University of San Agustin

AY: 2014-2015: First Semester


Lecture 1: The Human Experience of Pain and Suffering
Life is Absurd
Albert Camus
Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in Mondovi, a small village near the
seaport city of Bon (present-day Annaba) in the northeast region of French Algeria. He
was the second child of Lucien Auguste Camus, a military veteran and wine-shipping clerk,
and of Catherine Marie Cardona, a house-keeper and part-time factory worker.
In 1957 the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Albert Camus whose clearsighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience... Camus
background as an Algerian journalist, as an essayist and playwright, as well as his role in
the French resistance during World War II, form the well-spring of his belief in the
possibility of the moral life and the consequent triumph of human value in response to the
experience of the absurd. Camus work exemplifies our capacity to impose meaning vis-vis the desolation of human existence. Although he is thought of as an existentialist,
Camus rejected that label because of his devotion to personal moral value. For Camus,
morality is not a matter of expediency.
Camus in Le Mythe de Sisyphe affirms that only by facing the absurd can I act
authentically; otherwise, I adopt a convenient attitude of wishful thinking. Although I
cannot count on the consequences of my actions, my lifes meaning comes from seizing
awareness of what I do. I must act in the face of meaninglessI must revolt against the
absurdif I am not to despair from the ultimate hopelessness and limitations of my life.
What is the Absurd?
In existentialism absurdity refers to the meaninglessness of human
existence that derives from its lack of ground or ultimate purpose. The absurd
refers to the meaninglessness or the pointlessness of life. As we live in this world we are













meaninglessness. We are searching for meaning of our life and existence in this world but
the world does not seem to provide us with the meaning that we are looking.


University of San Agustin

AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

The absurd indeed refers to our failure to find meaning in our life and existence. As
rational beings we search for a rational meaning of life and existence. However the world
seems to be irrational, cold and silent by not providing man with answers in his
search for meaning. This irrational silence of the world is understood as its failure to
satisfy the longing and needs of man. Absurdity at the bottom is the failure of the world to
satisfy our human demand.
Man endlessly seeks for meaning, however in the end the world is revealed, to the
clear-sighted man, as without any determinate purpose or meaning. Man achieves and
attains a lot of success in life but yet find no meaning and happiness in it. Man tries to
exhaust every means to find meaning in work, society and achievements but still man
finds no meaning in them. Many people have achieved and reached a lot in life in life but
yet they feel meaningless and emptiness in life. The absurdity of our situation is
caused by the gap between our longings and the reality of our condition. The
feeling of absurdity is related to the feeling of reaching our longings but unable to do so
because of our condition, it is humanly impossible.
The Myth of Sisyphus
Sisyphus was punished by the gods for all eternity to roll a rock up a mountain.
However, whenever he reaches the top the stone would be roll back down to the bottom.
Sisyphus has to roll the rock up again to the top of the mountain. Sisyphus continually
accepts the struggle even without any hope of success. He endures the punishment by
repeating the task and this is victory for him. It is a situation that seems helpless and even
suicidal for him. The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a mans
heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. Albert Camus claims that Sisyphus is the ideal
absurd hero. Sisyphus must struggle perpetually and without hope of success. So long as
he accepts that there is nothing more to life than this absurd struggle, then he can find
happiness in it.
In face of the absurd, what shall man do?
As man is confronted with the absurdity of life how is a person supposed to face the
absurdity of life? Is there still a reason to live life when man is faced with the impossibility
of finding meaning in a meaningless world? If life is absurd is it still worth living? The


University of San Agustin

AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

most basic question that man encounters is how to face the absurdity of life? Given the
impossibility to find meaning in a meaningless world and the absurdity of life what shall
man do?
There are three choices in facing the absurdity of life namely to commit suicide,
belief in a transcendent and spiritual being or idea or lastly to face the absurd. He
considered the first and the second solution as a type of evading the problem and is not
really solutions. I am going to deal with each of the choices presented in facing the absurd
and discuss Camuss own view regarding each choice. Camus is considered as an
existentialist philosopher since the problem of human choice and decision are the themes
of his writings.
Physical suicide
First is regarding the choice of physical suicide. Suicide as introduced by Camus in
his book The Myth of Sisyphus considered as the only serious philosophical problem.
The choice and the decision of committing a suicide is indeed a concern for an
existentialist philosopher. The basic question is whether life is worth living; to answer it
negatively makes suicide the proper logical alternative. It is in this sense that suicide
becomes a serious philosophical problem. It is proper that we dwell much on this choice in
order to understand why Camus considered suicide as a serious philosophical problem. We
wonder perhaps if Camus does affirm or accept the choice of suicide as the solution to the
absurd. Certainly not, Camus rejected such choice. Suicide is not however the action
recommended by Camus. Suicide as a solution to the absurd would be a defeat; it
is a denial of the very condition of mans existence.

In Camus opinion suicide

means surrender to the absurd, a capitulation. Human pride and greatness are shown
neither in surrender nor in the sort of escapism indulged in by the existential

It is clear that Camus rejects suicide as a choice or solution to the

absurd. Though life is faced with absurdity, Camus rejects suicide.

Camus rejects suicide as a choice because he believed that we cannot solve the
problem of the absurd by negating its existence. He maintained that suicide cannot be
regarded as an adequate response to the experience of absurdity. The reason he gives is
that suicide deals with absurdity simply by suppressing one of the two poles, the human


University of San Agustin

AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

being and the world. Suicide is a form of negating or suppressing one of the two poles. In
this case suicide eliminates the problem but it does not solve it. Suicide is a way of
evading the problem and thus a cowardly solution to the absurd.
Camus holds high esteem and regard of human pride which he sees as in contrast
with the persons choice to commit suicide. The choice of suicide is a cowardly choice in
facing the absurdity of life in contrast with the human pride. Suicide is an admission of
human incapacity, and such admission is inconsistent with that human pride to which
Camus appeals. Camus esteem regarding human pride is consistent with his belief that
man should never surrender by killing himself





confessing. It is confessing that life is too much and that it is not worth living
for you or that you do not understand it.

Believe or hope in a transcendent being or idea.

For Camus there is no appeal to the transcendence and he dismisses such as
pointless hope.

Traditional theological and philosophical standards that give

meaning to the life of man are no longer intellectually available to modern

man Hope is found in an alleged solution to the absurd which lies beyond knowledge.
It may be God or history or reason, but such a solution similar with suicide does not
solve the problem, it eliminates it by arguments for which there is insufficient
evidence. He considered such solution as similar to suicide and calls it as philosophical
suicide. The second solution is also considered as evading the problem. By appealing to a
transcendent idea or being man simply escapes the problem of the absurd. This was
considered an escape since such solution does not consider reason. To consider the appeal
to the transcendent is similar to the Kierkegaardian leap of faith, but for Camus there is no
such leap of faith in facing the absurd.
Face or embrace the absurd.
The last choice is to face and live or embrace the absurd. It is this last choice that
Camus favors or suggests. The choice to live with the absurd and to face it is the
valid and authentic choice. Since the absurd in Camus view is an unavoidable, indeed


University of San Agustin

AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

defining, characteristic of the human condition, the only proper response to it is full,
unflinching and courageous acceptance; life, he says, can be lived all the better if it
has no meaning.

He believed that only by going on living in the face of their own

absurdity can human beings achieve their full stature.

This is similar to what other

existentialists such as Karl Jaspers believed that illumination of existence is achieved

when a person recognizes that human existence is revealed most profoundly in his
experience of those extreme situations that define the human condition-conflict, guilt,
suffering and death. In this sense the absurd helps us to live life to its fullest. Camus
suggests that the only way is to face, accept and embrace the absurd. The absurd being
the only truth, the essence of the human situation, the only proper alternative
is to live with it. In our ordinary experience it is the struggle to face the absurd that we
gain meaning in life. The last choice that Camus suggests is the acceptance of the absurd
which is to live in spite of it.
In acknowledging the absurdity of seeking any inherent meaning, but
continuing this search regardless, one can be happy, gradually developing his or
her own meaning from the search alone.

The Concept of Revolt

Revolt is the feeling that accompanies the acceptance of the absurd. It is one of the
feelings that may admit of the absurd. It is the spirit of defiance in the face of the absurd.
Revolt refers to the refusal of suicide and search for meaning despite the
revelation of the Absurd.

More technically and less metaphorically, it is a spirit of

opposition against any perceived unfairness, oppression, or indignity in the human


Revolt is the awareness of a crushing fate, but without the resignation that

ought to accompany it.

No matter how meaningless life is, we should not surrender and resign, instead we
must perpetually struggle. It is not the fact of reaching the top that matters but it is the
act of struggling that makes life meaningful.


University of San Agustin

AY: 2014-2015: First Semester