The Absurdly Optimistic Philosophy of Camus: A Retrospect
Humans coexist in this universe, and every person is engaged in the struggle to create meaning out of meaninglessness. We have the chronic urge to understand the world, and we use reason in order to do so. We often find ourselves lurking at the brink of an existential crisis. From the refreshing morning tea to the very-languidly-walking-to-the-kitchen coffee for the need of energy, a day passes and just like this, we pass through various stages. As teenagers, we wonder if what we study will ever have any significance for our career, as adults we wonder if we’ll ever have enough money to satisfy us and our family and so the contemplative questions go on changing throughout while we leave most of the things which are not under our control on the idea of faith or a certain higher power to handle. Albert Camus, a French philosopher, pondered over these questions of existential crises in a rather pessimistic tone by putting forward the Theory of Absurdism in the 19th century, which states that there is a vast difference between a human’s search for meaning in life and the absolute indifference of the universe towards this question. It basically says that in this universe, which is immeasurably large, human life is inconsequential.
Camus thought that life had no meaning, that nothing exists that could ever be a source of meaning, and hence, there is something deeply absurd about the human quest to find one. He fulfills the need to acknowledge and develop the implications of the unpredictability of the universe. He also hints at the fact that he does not believe in the existence of a higher power or a God who controls our life and ultimately provides us with a purpose to fulfill during it, if we spend enough time in His devotion. Fortunately, Camus presents Absurdism as society’s most effective channel through which to achieve all things good, even in an inherently meaningless world. The Solution to “The Absurd”: Camus explores certain solutions to “The Absurd”, for one, we could just deny the unreasonable world. This is a common choice in which we pretend that the world actually makes sense, we can make up and follow certain goals to give life meaning. We can blissfully deny the fact that we actually live to die. We tend to find escapism in the aestheticism of life, we see people living their best lives on social media and wonder if we could ever get that and we go on living just to find out that the so-called utopia only exists on reel. This gives us a meaning, a place in the world which usually seems too large to compensate for the emptiness in our life. It gives us a will to live. What is a reasonable way to live? Is it when we make enough money to live a comfortable retirement or if we live in the moment? Financial security distracts us from the fact that we will nonetheless be living a meaningless life even if we are financially secure. The mere idea of having what we want in this small life of ours, gives us a goal to work towards. Camus argues that to give life a reason, is to take freedom fully- the key to live. We may not be able to find the true meaning of this universe, but the ambition of finding one makes us want to live. Finally, there is the possible solution of self-obliteration, the idea of taking one’s own life after confronting the painful futility of “The Absurd”. The idea of life being meaningless leads an individual into thinking how they don’t play any significant role in the universe and instead of trying to figure a way out of this maze, they choose to give up. This inherent lack of meaning invites people to question the validity of every social construct, as such constructs are potentially composed of arbitrary thoughts and obsolete, life-threatening values. But Camus says that, “although life is filled with both ends of ups and downs such as sufferings, happiness, loneliness, sickness, hunger and death, the meaninglessness and purposelessness of these are not worth committing suicide. Killing oneself in the face of all these, tantamount to declaring that life weighs more than what you can carry or that one cannot not comprehend it. It is also merely confessing that life is not worth the trouble.” Though he understands that we are strangers to life and to comprehend what it really is, it could be quite pressing sometimes but he says that giving up is not the solution. In fact, suicide is what really lead to search the meaning of existence and piqued interest in the question- “why are we here”. Both Kierkegaard and Camus rejected it saying that it does not solve the Absurd rather it makes it more complicated.
Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus: How Many Times is Too Many Times? In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus proves that Absurdism is an optimistic philosophy that invites people to redefine their values and seek justice. Zeus once punished Sisyphus for stealing fire from God and giving it to the men. As a punishment, Zeus asked Sisyphus to carry a stone up the hill and keep it on the top. Once he would place the stone on the top, it’d fall down and then he would have to go back and push it up again, the punishment ensured that the stone kept falling again and again, thus keeping Sisyphus in a loop for all of eternity. This situation might seem to people as a cue to give up and surrender to their fate but Camus argues that we can live “with the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it”. Sisyphus is an epitome of strength and resilience in the face of the absurdity of life. His eternal battle with the hill and the stone is a symbol of never giving up in the face of darkness even though we know the futility of our fate, it shows how hope lies within us.
Religious, spiritual, or abstract belief in an idea or presence of a being- this solution is what Camus calls “the philosophical suicide”, it means that there are a lot of religions, a life beyond the absurd, this in a way keeps the individual from thinking that their life is in vain, or is meaningless. But Camus says that this is similar to suicide and eliminates it with the lack of evidence for the existence. We lead our lives as if every step we take adds up to the punishment or reward that we will receive in the afterlife. We live doing things which will make us look good in the higher perspective, which may not even exist. While we consider all the above points as solutions, Camus says that the only way to solve “The Absurd” is to live with it. To go through the absurd is the only way we can enjoy the little time we have fully, considering ourselves as little specks of dust in the universe, we should accept what we are, and move forward with it and therefore, he gives it a positive implication. Absurdism as a Framework of Positivity: Humans are not, as Watts colorfully wrote, “isolated ‘egos’ inside bags of skin.” Instead, “We are as much the universe as a neutron star, or a black hole, or a nebula. Even better, actually, we are its thinking and feeling part, the sensory organs of the universe.” According to Albert Camus, the only way to live life with enthusiasm, joy and passion is to accept the absurd and try to live with it as a part rather than taking it as an end. He says that “Acceptance is the true rebellion against what nonsense that life really is”. “To live as much as possible rather than as good” is what he prescribes as the recipe for a good life.. Absurdism could also be placed in life as a source of positivity, considering life as absurd and giving something to make the little time that we have in it, meaningful for us rather than making it hard because it doesn’t have a meaning. Living through the small things that come and go rather than considering the whole universe or a guiding life as the ultimate judge of what you do, make yourself your own critic and a supporter. The theory of Absurdism often brings doubts in the minds of humans, doubts about how if there is, in fact, no moral code present or no judge present, to guide or regulate our actions towards the right path, maybe there is no right path? If there is no meaning to the universe, we might as well do what we want whether right or wrong, as there are no consequences. But here what we are missing is that we can make the right path for ourselves by being a source of joy and peace, how if we imagine a peaceful life in our society for whatever time we are here for, it includes doing things that bring us and others happiness instead of pain, it includes making ourselves feel accomplished in our life without the help of others. Leaving a mark behind us for the people to know that instead of choosing immorality, we chose to live as a source of kindness and happiness for the people around us, we were internally peaceful enough to provide others a ray of hope.