Camus and the Logic of Absurdity

David Banach


God is necessary and so must exist. . .

But I know He doesn’t and can’t. . . .

Surely you must understand that a man with two such ideas can’t go on living.  (Kirilov in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Possessed)


Let’s not beat around the bush; I love life--that’s my real weakness. I love it so much that I am incapable of imagining what is not life.  (Albert Camus, The Fall)


The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.  (Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”)



  I. Camus’ Life.

        A. The point of philosophy is life: “The preceding merely defines a way of thinking. But the point is to live.” (The Myth of Sisyphus)

        B. Camus’ life and work were dominated by the juxtaposition of an indomitable will towards happiness and justice on one hand and the indifference and hostility of the world on the other hand. This juxtaposition constitutes the absurd.


 II. Camus’ Work.  Most of Camus’ work is a development of the themes dealt with in The Myth of Sisyphus and the problems that arose from them.


III. The Absurd.  The absurd is a disproportion or conflict between our expectations or ideals and reality. In particular it is the confrontation between our longing or nostalgia for order, meaning, and clarity on the one hand with the chaos, confusion, and irrationality of the world on the other hand; between the human longing for happiness and the evil in the world. The absurd is not in man alone nor in the world alone, but only in the juxtaposition of the two: “The world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart.”  (The Myth of Sisyphus)


 IV. Suicide.  Suicide is not a logical consequence of the absurd. It attempts to escape the absurd by removing one of its elements: the human longing for order (philosophical) or the unbearable, unintelligible world (physical). One must live with the absurd, not try to escape it.

        A. Philosophical Suicide. The existential leap of faith to believe in an ultimate order and intelligibility, but one inaccessible to man, is philosophical suicide. It kills the human longing for an order and clarity it can understand.

        B. Physical Suicide. Killing oneself is an attempt to escape the absurd rather than facing it. One cannot accept the world, so one ends their existence in it. This is not a consequence of the absurd, but an escape from it.



  V. Consequences of the Absurd

         A. Revolt. This is a refusal to accept the absurd without trying to escape it and without renouncing either the world or our desire for happiness and order.

         B. Freedom. In a world devoid of external significance and meaning, man is free to create his own happiness. The loss of external values is also a liberation from our dependence on them.

         C. Passion. Recognizing and living with the absurd entails a passionate consciousness of each moment of experience. What we lose in quality of experience derived from external values we gain in quantity of consciousness and passion derived from our awareness and rejection of the absurd.


 VI. Sisyphus and Absurd Happiness.  The absurd man must find himself happy. The human will to happiness is frustrated by the world as long as we make our happiness dependent on the world by seeking to escape the absurd. Once we revolt and freely create our own happiness, we find the only real happiness appropriate to the human condition. We find a human happiness.



Camus’ Life

         1913     Born November 7 in Mondovi, Algeria.

         1914     Father killed in Battle of Marne, World War I

         1930     Studies philosophy, participates in sports at University of Algiers
Serious attack of tuberculosis prevent his teaching career.

         1934     Brief marriage ends in divorce one year later.

1935-1939     Works as actor, director, and playwright theater in Algiers

         1940     Second marriage to Francine Faure.

         1942     Leaves Algeria for Paris. Works as editor of Combat, a resistance newspaper.

1942-1945     Suffers recurrent bouts of tuberculosis.

         1945     Birth of twins, Catherine and Jean.

1949-1951     Suffers recurrent bouts of tuberculosis.

         1951     Controversy with Sartre.

         1960     Killed in automobile accident January 4.


Camus’ Major Works

1936       Works on La Morte heureuse (A Happy Death), published posthumously 1971. A novel.

1942       L’Etranger (The Stranger) A novel.

1943       Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus) Essays.

1947       La Peste (The Plague) A novel.

1951       L’Homme révolté (The Rebel) Essays.

1956       La Chute (The Fall) A novel.

1957       L’Exil et le royaume (Exile and the Kingdom) Short Stories.