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The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus: The Philosophy of Absurdism Report

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Albert Camus (1913-1960) was an Algerian writer who was influenced by the philosophy of existentialism. He wrote The Myth of Sisyphus while in exile and serving the French Resistance during the Second World War. His work gave rise to the philosophy of absurdism. The book asserts that life itself never reveals to individuals its meaning; if humans were to think and act rationally as free agents, that realization should lead to suicide. Additionally, people could evade rationality through a leap of faith. Camus offers a third option: to continue living in a meaningless and purposeless world. The philosophy of absurdism, therefore, acknowledges the meaninglessness of peoples’ daily activities and human existence in general, but it also embodies the idea that individuals can create their meaning.

The mythical Sisyphus was given an arduous punishment that was to continue for eternity. The meaningless penalty involved rolling a boulder up a slope only for the rock to roll back down as soon as Sisyphus had reached the summit. Albert Camus uses the myth of Sisyphus to deliberate on the theme of suicide, which he considers the only “truly philosophical problem”; whether or not life is worth the living (26). However, Camus is concerned that the problem of suicide has been dealt with only as a social phenomenon, and that what happens within the individual heart or mind has not been considered. Camus thinks that awareness or the onset of consciousness is the root cause of suicide. He writes, “Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined” (48). According to Camus, therefore, suicide is a form of confession that “life is too much for you or that you do not understand it” (61). That is to say, there is a realization of the absurdity of human existence and that, therefore, life is not worth living.

The absurd, according to Camus, is the confrontation between an irrational world and “the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart.” To put it another way, humans want something that the world is not willing to give them. That is an intolerable situation to be in, and a method of escape is therefore required. Other than committing physical suicide, one could also die philosophically by taking a leap of faith. That statement implies transcending rationality to grasp ultimate meaning through faith. Belief in the unseen becomes necessary once individuals realize that rationality has its limits. However, Camus rejects both physical as well as philosophical suicide as means of escaping the absurd. By writing, “Living is keeping the absurd alive”, the author chooses to remain rational and in constant awareness of the absurd because he cannot free himself from his truth, a philosophical position he calls “revolt” (Camus 70).

The concept of revolt against the absurd appears quite disheartening. At first glance, it does not give humanity the impression of life as a celebration. Nevertheless, Camus sees it as an opportunity to live life intensely or to its fullest. According to him, this revolt gives value to life. By becoming aware of our inability to find meaning in life, we can proceed to give meaning to our lives. Similarly, the constant awareness of the brevity of life should make us value the people in our lives and treasure every moment. Camus’ revolt seems to parallel the Zen Buddhist emphasis on living in the present moment.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus: The Philosophy of Absurdism." July 8, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-myth-of-sisyphus-by-albert-camus-the-philosophy-of-absurdism/.

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