What Did He Believe?
“The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth.”
Albert Camus was a man who lived without fear and without hope, yet he lived with the greatest will and joy anyone could possibly experience. Born in French Algeria to an extremely poor family, Camus would go on to live an extraordinary life. Camus Survived through two world wars, losing his father in the first, and wrote and organized for the French Resistance during the second. Through all of this loss, violence, and oppression, as well as the world's rapidly growing understanding of life and absorption of information, a new type of philosophy was formed by Camus: Absurdism.
Albert Camus lived with what he had and worked to achieve what he wanted; simultaneously, he refused to accept the idea that man was capable of discovering actual meaning, and should act accordingly.
"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life."
To most, that would sound like breathing without lungs. To most, there would be no point in living if we had no meaning. To Camus, this was the most liberating thing man could 'hope' to understand. To Camus, life was Absurd.
To believe in anything certain in a universe of increasing uncertainty was to delude ourselves and fake life. On the other end, to come to face with our reality as living and existing beings without certifiable meaning leads man to be free.
"Man is always prey to his truths. Once he has admitted them, he cannot free himself from them."
We Have Three Options
“Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”
To Camus, facing the absurd was an ordeal for man. Man throughout his life lives in blatant ignorance, hiding from or avoiding the truth around him. Once he realizes the absurdity of his life, he has three paths to choose from according to Camus:
2. A "Leap of Faith"
The first two were invalid to Camus, as the former eluded reality while the latter hid from it. Option one depended on man negating his existence, something Camus believed to be the easy way out and just as absurd as the world. Option two depended on man depending purely on the abstract, such as God and spirituality, which was 'philosophical suicide' in Camus' eyes.
Neither faced the reality around us.
"Then came human beings; they wanted to cling, but there was nothing to cling to, and that was unfortunate--for them."
Acceptance and Revolt
Camus first officially introduced his philosophy of Absurdism in his book, The Myth of Sisyphus. It is here that he explains all three options as well, choosing his third as the solution: Accepting the Absurd.
With accepting reality, man realizes that there are no limits to his actions. This is a burden because now man must live with integrity to himself. It is not about being the greatest, but living to your greatest. To accept the absurd is to be honest to yourself and simply be you.
"What counts is not the best living but the most living."
Man is free to exist in a world without meaning, and thus is not constrained by any pre-ordained essence or path. Be what you want to be, and you'll achieve happiness; attempt to find meaning, and you'll forever be at a lost. In an uncertain universe, it is impossible to be certain. So just be.
By accepting the absurd and 'being', Camus argued that man could then Revolt against the absurd. To revolt was to live in spite of his condition, whatever it was, and possibly gaining our own meaning indirectly.
Through this simultaneous confrontation and revolt of the absurd, man could come to his own fulfillment.
Man Is Sisyphus
"I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Camus compared man's state with that of Sisyphus, because like Sisyphus, man is cursed to an absurd existence. Humanity must come to terms with the fact that life is absurd, and that man can never discover, understand, or purposefully create meaning. We are 'doomed' to a life of uncertain meaning, and as Sisyphus, we must come to terms with our fatal nature and revolt.
Camus' work was meant to be the liberation from a life that ended at the bottom of a bottle. When WWII ended, humanity as an entity was lost philosophically. When we saw what brutality man was capable of, Nihilism become prevalent again.
Contrary to popular thought, however, Camus absolutely opposed this type of thinking and made it his duty to fight it. To prosper, man must face his world unafraid and clear from disillusionment.
The modern mind is in complete disarray. Knowledge has stretched itself to the point where neither the world nor our intelligence can find any foot-hold. It is a fact that we are suffering from nihilism.
We had become too reliant on science and faith for answers, when in reality we had to live. Camus chose Sisyphus because humanity's lives were just as absurd. Factory workers, office jobs, education had all become a monotonous existence. We, like Sisyphus, must conquer our hill and fight our meaningless existence. It is only through this struggle can life be given personal meaning. To become happy with our life is to revolt.
Why We Should Remember
Living under false pretenses is what explains the angst, dissatisfaction, and regret that is synonymous with modern society. We live as we're told to rather than how we want to, and people are afraid to see this. What man must realize is that to exist is to have no inherent meaning, and this lack of essence does not define our existence.
In fact, it is the opposite: Our existence defines our essence. We must act in accordance with what we want and are, not with what others expect and see. To conform is to be ignorant and dead philosophically. You can not live when you never tried. To be free is a duty and responsibility, as much as it is a gift.
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
Albert Camus was the man that was happy in spite of his existence. He was free of fear and hope, yet he lived more than most men could ever hope. He wrote to remind humanity what it must do, and that its freedom was also a gift to be lived up to. In a time of tension between the West and East, and when the intellectuals of the world sided with order and equality over freedom, Camus remembered what man was and needed. After all:
Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.