Camus: The Absurd, Revolt, and Rebellion

Meant more as a permanent bookmark for me more than anything else. I think this little primer on the existential philosophy of Albert Camus sums up my reflections on life.

We struggle – indeed we are genetically driven – to search for meaning in a meaninglessness world, and that search is by its very nature – impossible to attain and therefore, absurd. It is not that the Universe is inherently absurd, but it is our relationship with it.

Camus sees 3 potential solutions to this conundrum:

  • Physical Suicide – if our life is devoid of any real meaning, why prolong it? Some consider this an irrational proposition. I do not, and I think, neither does Camus. But he does feel it is not the best way.
  • Philosophical Suicide – God, nirvana, reincarnation, computer simulations, ghosties, etc. Choosing to believe in some supernatural other world which provides meaning to this meaningless world. Here, we can never have proof or any rational assurance that it exists. People commit philosophical suicide through the irrationality of faith and hope – a state of denial or delusion.
  • Revolt – to accept and acknowledge that life is absurd, but to refuse to submit to its hopelessness. Camus considers this a form of accomplishment, the practitioners of which he called “Absurd Heroes”.

The decision to revolt leads to rebellion, and among those who rebel, Camus further subdivides these into 2 types:

  • The Nihilist – having eliminated God and morality, the Nihilist seeks to make man God and establish utopian unity. This inevitably leads to mass carnage (Nazism, Communism, radical environmentalism, etc.).
  • Constructive Rebels – those who see their fellows as comrades in the struggle against the absurd, and that we are bound by common values, a respect for individual freedom, and the dignity and rights of others. Camus referred to this as the ““solidarity of chains”.

Having become aware that life is absurd, there is a strong temptation to embrace nihilism. The hard path of rebellion, is the quest for the “solidarity of chains”.

“No doubt the rebel demands a certain freedom for himself; but in no circumstances does he demand, if he is consistent, the right to destroy the person and freedom of someone else. He degrades no one. The freedom which he demands he claims for everybody; that which he rejects he forbids all others to exercise. He is not simply a slave opposing his master but a man opposing the world of master and slave.” ((The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt)

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