Camus and a Satisfying Solution to the State of Absurdity
Camus chooses to open his book The Myth of Sisyphus with an epigraph by Pindar, “O my soul, do not aspire to immortal life, but exhaust the limits of the possible”. Camus uses this epigraph to preface his writings as this quote reflects the way in which Camus’ absurd man lives his life, without trying to obtain that which he knows to be impossible of the world. Camus’ argument for the absurd life arising out of humans needing to understand an unreasonable world reflects that a life oriented towards “exhausting the limits of the possible” provides a more satisfying solution than attempting to assign a scale of values to a life that has no meaning. I will incite this essay by laying out Camus’ definition of the absurd and what it represents, before moving on to evaluate how Camus’ points fit into my aforementioned argument, finally expressing my culminating position and concluding.
Camus explicates his notion of absurdity in life through observation of the average individual in society, repeating tasks each day living off of hope for tomorrow (Camus, 12). Inevitably each day brings people closer to death and though aware of this concept, people live their lives as if death is not absolutely certain (Camus, 13). What furthers this notion of the absurd is the many facets per which the general romanticism of the world relies on (Camus, 22). Camus deconstructs the average person’s view of the world in identifying that true knowledge is impossible as our epistemological strategies of science and reason can not provide conclusive, non-abstract truths for any given individual (Camus, 22). The realization or “consciousness” of these constructed notions being the backdrop for your own conception of the world is the absurd condition that Camus refers to individuals finding themselves in.
The absurd condition arises out of the same notion as the strategies of science and reason, the human desire to fully understand the world (Camus, 14). The idea that removes the absurd condition from the concepts of science and reason is Camus’ assertion that the world is in fact unreasonable, suggesting it can not be understood by humans (Camus, 14). Because humans have exemplified the innate desire to understand the world and the world is unreasonable, the absurd condition of not knowing how or why to gain satisfaction from life. Thus emerges Camus’ principle consideration of if a world lacking meaning illicits suicide.
In order to identify the characteristics of absurdity and to evaluate the possible conclusions of taking the absurd life seriously Camus states that you must acknowledge the contradiction between the desire of reason and the world being unreasonable (Camus, 14). From applying this notion, Camus finds that suicide must be rejected as without man the absurd condition cannot exist (Camus, 19). Camus states that individuals act on what they believe, if one is to believe in the absurdity of existence yet kill themselves, they have not found and undertaken a solution to the absurd (Camus, 19). As such, Camus identifies that suicide is not a solution to the absurd and thus reason and its limits must be acknowledged, without undertaking any notions of hope as they reflect a non-concious belief for an optimistic tomorrow (Camus, 20). Camus uses this notion to express how any individual who is basing their lives around ideas of immortality betrays life, an attribute that can only consist of the direct experience of one who is living (Camus, 35). This notion is extended by Camus as he defines this “hope for tomorrow” as an additional betrayal of life as it suggests a sacrifice of something in the present for “the future” which is a hypothetical concept that may not be reflected by real experience (Camus, 7).
Camus has an additional point in his writings that proves to be essential to an argument for the satisfaction of a life lived attempting to exhaust the limits of possibility, freedom being characteristic of the life of the absurd (Camus, 34). Although Camus states that the absurd man loses interest in the concept of free will in the metaphysical sense, he gains freedom through no longer allowing hope for a better future to fuel his life’s pursuit (Camus, 35). The absurd man is able to enjoy the freedom of not being constricted by tomorrow without having to worry for a greater purpose or meaning of life to service (Camus, 35). This notion suggests that a life lived fully applying the absurd results in embracing all that the world has to offer without basing your actions off of an assigned scale of values (dictating what is virtuous and what isn’t or what has greater worth than a varied attribute).
From an evaluation of Camus’ writings on absurdity and its connection with suicide, I am able to construct an argument for a life lived exhausting the limits of the possible in an unreasonable world. Firstly, Camus states that once someone obtains consciousness (realization) of the lack of meaning in the world (the absurd condition), they are not able to return to their worldview, knowing that it was held up by metaphorical principles that do not reflect real life experience (Camus, 15). It is from this initial point that an understanding of dissatisfaction in a life dictated by assigned values is developed. If an individual who has obtained consciousness were to return to their world view of life having value or a supernatural force judging the actions of the individual they would find that their understanding of reason’s limits would not allow them to live a satisfied life. What would naturally follow from dissatisfaction with life would be a search for a life that will satisfy through authenticity. Having already identified that all that is authentic must be experienced and can not be gained by reason or science, the life of the absurd (exhausting the limits of possibility) would reflect a more satisfying life, given that consciousness has been obtained.
It can additionally be found amongst Camus’ writings that consciousness of the absurd provides people with a newfound satisfaction that can not be experienced by those who have not realized the absurd. An awareness of consciousness itself allows a satisfaction to be found, this is exemplified by the unique form of freedom offered by the absurdist position. Through no longer hoping for a better future, the absurdist man is able to enjoy the freedom of being removed from common rules. This freedom entails the alleviation of expectations for life, no longer straining your lived experience to fit the needs of a metaphorical world view. This freedom serves as more satisfactory than the metaphysical sense of free will as it allows for an amount of possibilities for experience that are only limited by the physical world around you. Furthermore, an awareness of consciousness provides a certainty to one’s life (different from meaning). Rest assured, the absurd man knows he will die, moreso, the absurd man is aware that nothing he does can sway the certainty of his death. Since the absurd man is additionally aware that nothing in life will reflect higher value than any other attribute in life, he is allowed complete certainty and complete freedom (within the means of human experience). As such, the freedom and certainty that the absurd man experiences through fully applying the absurdist condition reflect a satisfaction that is found in living life attempting to exhaust the limits of the possible, rather than aspiring for immortal ideas.
I believe this formulated argument from Camus’ writings to be correct as it explicates the nullness of immortal ideas, which are particularly prevalent in society just as they were in the time of Camus’ writings. Whether pertaining to deities or spiritual concepts, many make constant attempts to make ultimate sense of the world in which we live. Although these world understandings provide people with certainty and comfort it is all hinged on notions that can not be definitive explanations. This idea follows Camus’ notions of it being required that we analyze the limits of reason and identify its faults in providing true knowledge for humans. I think Camus’ argument shows its relevance to the world as coming at a much later state in the history of documented philosophy. As Camus’ position reflects a consideration of the world’s continued reliance on reason and science, a process which has allowed these attributes to be people’s principle form of forming their own truths, and thus how they live their lives. Because life is uniquely tethered to personal experience, Camus’ position rings particularly true in exposing the ignorance that has shaped most people’s world view amongst previous centuries. It is for this reason that I believe my argument that the life lived experiencing more rather than “better” is ultimately more satisfying naturally follows Camus’ premises as he was suggesting that the confrontation of the absurd condition should not be ignored.
Camus’ choice in epigraph is particularly representative of his belief of the absurd condition. Camus’ writings suggest that abandonment of hope but he never wrote of the abandonment of the attributes that satisfaction gained from hope. It was his intention that the absurd condition be taken as a wake up call for repositioning what people gain satisfaction from, from abstract notions of understanding to direct human experience. From Camus’ writings I was able to identify an argument for the life lived experiencing more as more satisfactory than the life lived experiencing “better” attributes. This argument is supported by Camus’ writings on the freedom and certainty obtained by the absurd man, and by the flawed attributes that are used to construct a reason-based model of the world.
Camus, Albert,O’Brien, Justin,The Myth Of Sisyphus, And Other Essays. New York : Vintage Books, 1991. Print.