Existential Freedom: Albert Camus

Camus wrote the Myth of Sisyphus as an essay on the relationship between individual thought and suicide as a solution to the absurd (6). Camus used the Greek myth of Sisyphus as a metaphor for life and the seeming absurdity of living. Understanding Camus conception of absurdity is necessary for grasping the role of freedom in human existence.

According to Camus, absurdity can be found to occur anywhere, on street corners or in revolving doors. (12) It strikes in moments throughout a man’s life when the uniformity and routine of existence—the habituations of thought and regularities of action—are broken and man seeks to reconnect and repair them again (12). Camus says that “before encountering the absurd, every man lives with aims, a concern for the future or for justification (with regard to whom or what is not the question).” (57)

Absurdity arises when the inference of reason reveals itself to be wholly dependent on cognitive activity alone, the sole work of consciousness. In this event inference ceases to follow from the nauseating compulsion of objective necessities and the world readjusts itself as a relative, subjective condition of man. Camus says that “A man’s failures imply judgment, not of circumstances, but of himself.” (69) Inference positions itself as alien to the world from which we attribute it (21). When man posits the question ‘why?’ and weariness sets it, he reveals the lack of inference in his mechanical routines, and elucidates an impulse of consciousness. (13) This consciousness either dissipates as man falls back into his life’s motifs, or he realizes, through an awakening, that inference is a device imparted to the mind, rather than a process inherent to the world. Camus says man comes to terms with this awakening by embracing suicide or recovery. (13)

Camus holds that life is indeed meaningless, full of contradictions and confusion, and has no inherent values other than those that we create. He entreats, however, asking “In the face of such contradictions and obscurities must we conclude that there is no relationship between the opinion one has about life and the act one commits to leave it?” (7,8) Certainly not. Rather accepting the futility of our world as an excuse for suicide, and rather than accepting the leap of faith that religion calls for, Camus proposes that we consciously accept the futility moment by moment by revolting with freedom and passion (64). In this way living is keeping the absurd alive, retaining the possibility of happiness and meaning in moments in between, whereas suicide would negate the very absurdity and possibility that established it. (6, 54) According to Camus, revolt as “the constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity” is one of the few acceptable philosophical positions. It means we must “challenge the world at every second” (54). This revolt is defiance, an exercise of freedom, which intensifies life’s value maximally in a way that no other ideological thinking can guarantee (55).

Camus paints three extreme portraits of absurd lifestyles given the form of the lover, the actors, and the conqueror (90). While there is nothing exclusive about these lifestyles they provide a caricature of the absurdity as a joy of living creatively. Inasmuch as life is absurd, life is creation (94). “To think is first of all to create a world” Camus says. Through creation man manifests ends and aims and realities so that just as an artist “commits himself and becomes himself in his work”, a creative being commits himself and becomes himself in the tasks he lovingly chooses for himself (97). Intelligence must refuse to reason the concrete, concluding that “expression begins where thought ends” (99).  According to Camus, gratuitousness is a hallmark of the absurd life and a life with hope: with no revolt or divorce from illusions, there is no gratuitousness. What is necessary then is this constant passionate detachment (102).

Works Cited

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. New York: Vintage International, 1991.

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