Most of Albert Camus’ writings focus on the philosophy of the Absurd. His main character in the novel, The Stranger exemplifies what an absurd man is and his essay The Myth of Sisyphus takes readers through his reasoning for his belief and the conclusion that he reaches. Camus’ philosophy of life in his opinion is that life has no meaning since there is an endless circular path of meaning that can only be ended with suicide. By this, he means that if someone were to find a meaning to live that person would eventually lose that reason to live and would have to make a choice. This is whether to commit suicide or to try to find another meaning. The only end to this cycle is death or preemptively ending it would be suicide. Camus’ believes that the absurd is irrational in its form. Camus also shows that absurdity is an unstoppable force. The absurd also does not think or consider the future with its actions. Next, the circular argument of the meaning of life has only two options to follow. Also, Camus describes the absurdity that is man’s relation to time. Finally Camus sees suicide as a response to the absurdity of life.
Camus believes that the universe acts irrationally or absurdly. As stated by Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray, “The absurd, for Camus, has two sources: the universe and death. The first is the notion that absurdity lies in the chaos and irrationality of the universe” (Baltzer-Jaray) The universe may abide by its laws; however, it does act irrationally in certain situations. It does not rationalize events such as a human will. If a soldier is captured as a prisoner of war and succumbs to brutal torture at the hands of enemies. That soldier would consider that situation absurd. What necessity was there for him to be tortured as a prisoner of war. One could explain that the enemy desired intel to benefit themselves; however, the soldier would not be so willing to forgive the awful treatment he received and would consider the event absurd. Camus explains this as the universe acting irrationally. Just as the absurd is irrational and unpredictable, the absurd is also unstoppable in its effects.
Camus considers absurdity to not take into account the future, The absurd does not stop and wonder if what it does now will affect what may happen in the future. Camus’ main character in the novel The Stranger exemplifies absurdity. Meursault does not act in preparation for future events. As stated by Dilek Baskaya in his essay, “Another peculiarity of Meursault that makes him absurd is that he perceives and lives in only the present time whereas in a society people are expected to have the concept of all three phases of time” (Baskaya). He mentions that as a society people consider all three phases of time: past, present, and future. People will consider past mistakes and work to not make them again, they will consider what is happening in the present and plan accordingly, and people will prepare for their future with a retirement fund. Meursault does not think in terms of past or the future, he only considers what is happening in the moment. Throughout the novel he never plans any activities with people. He just agrees to any that are proposed to him. The novel follows his thoughts and the novel rarely mentions how his past has affected the present or will affect the future. He rarely ever thinks twice about his actions such as his murder of a man. There was hardly any time for consideration between the time that Meursault sees the Arab man and the moment he kills him. Meursault is not thinking rationally during this moment, but absurdly.
The absurdity that Camus is trying to describe is shown in Meursault’s trial. Any sane human would try to defend their case as to be acquitted or receive the least severe punishment possible. This kind of thinking is not what Meursault does. Instead of defending himself he remains silent and show little to no emotion just as he did as his mother’s funeral. The prosecutor even uses this against him during his trial, ‘I accuse the prisoner of behaving at his mother’s funeral in a way that showed he was already a criminal at heart’ (Camus 60). Meursault’s absurd way of thinking is demonstrated during his trial with his attitude and responses. The whole point of the defendant’s testimony is to defend your reasons for committing the crime to the best of your ability; however, Meursault does not take advantage of this opportunity fully to explain himself to the jury. Although Camus believed that absurdity was present in everything; he believes that there is an end to life.
This end that Camus comes to discover is death. One of philosophy’s greatest questions, “To be, or not to be.” Camus believes that every human desires to find the meaning of life to feel a sense of purpose and determination. This meaning to life is what motivates people to strive in whatever they do, whether that be teaching, healing people, or constructing buildings. Without this meaning humans lose sight on what to work towards. Camus believes that there is no meaning to life. He explains that life boils down to a circular argument that can only end with death. In Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus,” he states, “in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land” (Camus 497). Camus explains that when the universe becomes transparent man experiences an exile and there there looks to be no hope of a better future such as heaven. This is when man is faced with Camus’ proposed decision to end it now or continue on the circular never ending path until death. Camus also sees irrational way of thinking when a man thinks about his position in time.
Camus describes the depending and the putting of our hope in tomorrow as absurd. As children we always wish that we can be older or as adults we desire to retire to so that we can stop laboring. Camus states, “He belongs to time, and by the horror that seizes him, he recognizes his worst enemy. Tomorrow, he was longing for tomorrow, whereas everything in him ought to reject it” (Camus 503). Camus realizes that tomorrow is not what humans should be living for because it will never stop until it is too late. When you are at your deathbed, you will realize that tomorrow is not what you should hope for. Why should people desire to reach their death quicker? Camus explains that this realization is absurd since it is ridiculous to long for a time that is closer to death. People are supposed to fear death and the uncertainty that is associated with it not long for it. Camus also explains that suicide is not just the end of the circular path.
Camus interprets the act of committing suicide as a confession of defeat. Man contemplates suicide because he can not continue and he does not possess the strength required to continue. As stated in an article by Ronald Aronson, “Camus sees this question of suicide as a natural response to an underlying premise, namely that life is absurd in a variety of ways” (Aronson). Suicide is caused by the absurdity in life and our inability to deal with it. A man who loses every loved one sees his situation as absurd so he commits suicide to escape the absurdity and the circular path of life that Camus describes. A woman who loses her children to the horrors of war will see the situation as absurd and have the choice to make whether or not to continue on the circular path. Camus’ opinion is interesting in that everyone can understand the message he is trying to convey. It is a simplified version of whether or not to live in this absurd reality that we inhabit. People contemplate suicide because life is absurd and we cannot find meaning in life through the absurdity.
Camus’ philosophy on suicide and the absurd is true yet not very complex. You follow a path until you lose that meaning for living, usually due to absurd, then you you have to make a choice to find meaning or commit suicide. This choice is explained to be pointless since everyone’s life ends with death. This is due either to committing suicide, dying of old age, or being killed. Camus first explains the absurd as irrational and unpredictable. Then, he explains that the absurd is not something that can be stopped or slowed down. Next, he explains that the absurdity does not act in respect to the future. Furthermore, Camus explains his circular path of life that only ends on of two ways. Moreover, Camus describes man’s obsession with the future as absurd. Finally, Camus explains that suicide is not only the giving up on life but also as a final response to the absurdity of life. Camus’ philosophy of the absurd is impossible to understand fully without actually having contemplated suicide once in your life.