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Albert Camus is a prominent representative of the existentialist philosophy. The concept shared by the author consists in the statement that human life is irrational: one has to admit that it is senseless and is forced to overcome this knowledge to continue living, working, and creating. I selected the theme “the meaningless of life” to examine how Camus approaches it in his work The Myth of Sisyphus.
Analysis of the Theme
Camus states: “Hope of another life one must “deserve” or trickery of those who live not for life itself but for some great idea that will transcend it, refine it, give it a meaning, and betray it. Thus everything contributes to spreading confusion” (7). In this quote, Camus shows that life is essentially meaningless, but people use their beliefs to give it meaning, although, in reality, it does not have one.
Thus, we use ideas (such as hope) to give life meaning. Camus writes, “but what does life mean in such a universe? Nothing else for the moment but indifference to the future and a desire to use up everything that is given. Belief in the meaning of life always implies a scale of values, a choice, our preferences. Belief in the absurd, according to our definitions, teaches the contrary” (40). In these statements, Camus shows that the meaning of life is nothing more but our own values, choices, beliefs, and preferences that we see as meaningful. But bare life (without out values) has no meaning.
Camus states that “lives… could not persevere without some profound and constant thought to infuse its strength into them” (76). This means that, according to the existentialist concept, life is originally and naturally senseless. To force oneself to continue living, one has to invent a purpose that his or her existence will serve. That is why any declarations of life devotion to something should be viewed as attempts to hide from the understanding that living on earth has no meaning.
To address opinions that point out that life without God and meaning implies that everything is permitted, Camus notes that “the certainty of a God giving a meaning to life far surpasses in attractiveness the ability to behave badly with impunity. The choice would not be hard to make. But there is no choice, and that is where the bitterness comes in. The absurd does not liberate; it binds. It does not authorize all actions” (44). Camus demonstrates that life having no meaning does not give any freedom to the person as absurdity takes any chance of having a choice away. The meaningless is limiting, not liberating.
Further, Camus argues that “as for the others, the “ideal” truths, I have not enough soul to understand them. Not that one must be an animal, but I find no meaning in the happiness of angels. I know simply that this sky will last longer than I. And what shall I call eternity except what will continue after my death?” (94). He points out that life’s lack of meaning is also in the lack of any continuation after death. Happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven is absurd (or impossible) because eternity is everything that happens after one’s death.
To conclude, according to Camus, human life is a kind of Sisyphus’s labor that is “exerted to accomplishing nothing” (97). The philosopher presents the concept that human existence is originally senseless. The understanding of this truth is unbearable; that is why one is forced to invent a life purpose to devote oneself to. Otherwise, one is prone to committing suicide. The life of an artist is a sufficient example of how a human being can explain and justify his or her existence to the merciless inner judge.
Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. Vintage Books, 1991.