Life is Absurd! Exploring Absurdism Philosophy

Progressing in the adult absurd world requires constant calibration. Calibration between meaning and meaninglessness, ambition and resignation. That is, you need to create your own meaning and show up every day and push yourself. However, both of these things, despite the realization that the world is inherently meaningless and your reemerging desire to retreat from the tough journey.

This is one case where the young have an advantage. They are generally more optimistic and happy. But the source of their optimism and joy is ignorance. This is a perfect example of how ignorance can sometimes beat knowledge.

And if you are happy and optimistic – even if you are not young, nor consider yourself ignorant.

The absurdism philosophy is probably a topic you want to avoid – the main course of this article.

Not so much because it will steal away your joyful moments. But because it will highlight how futile what you smile about is.

So, a note of caution before you proceed…

Very few people will keep their optimistic view after reading about what is absurdism – a.k.a., the Albert Camus philosophy.

If you don’t want to lose your edge. I suggest we part ways here. There are other things you can consume online.

Still here?

Great! I love your enthusiasm for doom and gloom.

What we are about to explore is a philosophical explanation of the bold statement: Life is absurd!

I will explain what is absurdism. What is the absurdism philosophy? Why is it called the Albert Camus philosophy? And more importantly, how to avoid ending in despair in our absurd world.

What is Absurdism in Simple Words?

The absurdism philosophy highlights the contrast between the desire of humans to find meaning and the cold, indifferent response of the world.

Our efforts to find meaning in a meaningless word constantly fail because no such grand meaning exists – thus, the absurd.

In the modern world, we can explain this as a person looking for a NeuroLinker – a highly advanced brain-computer interface device that seamlessly connects the human brain to external technologies for information exchange.

While this apparatus doesn’t exist. The modern person who is infected by the 21st-century disease of instant gratification relentlessly searches for the tool that he imagines will bring him ultimately happiness. And yet, moving from store to store, the only thing he finds is rejection – “There is no such thing as NeuroLinker, dude!”

Looking for meaning in the meaningless universe.
Looking for meaning in the meaningless universe.

In this grand theater of the absurd world, we march forth, searching for reason and meaning. But the only thing we find is an unreasonable place that cannot comply with our desires for significance.

The philosophy of absurdism does not only suggest that there is no meaning now. Rather, it means that there wasn’t, and there won’t ever be, meaning in the world as a whole from a universal point of view.

While the idea of this meaningless world can surely invite severe points of despair – and probably a reluctance to participate in life. Philosophers studying the problem of the purposeless universe suggest that we should get used to the pointlessness of living.

That’s where Albert Camus enters the scene.

Albert Camus was a French philosopher and novelist who was first able to spot the absurd hamster-wheel-like loop we are all prisoners to – i.e., our constant attempt to derive meaning from a meaningless world.

What is The Absurdism Philosophy According to Albert Camus?

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote extensively on the absurdity of the world. However, the father of the absurdism philosophy is considered no other than Albert Camus – thus, the Albert Camus philosophy.

In Camus’ view, the universe operates according to its own indifferent laws, devoid of any inherent meaning or purpose.

We, humans, however, are driven by a deep-seated longing to understand and find meaning in our lives. The conflict arises when humans seek objective, rational explanations for life’s fundamental questions but encounter only silence and indifference from the universe.

Though grim, the whole idea of the philosophy of absurdism is not to demotivate people from living. Quite the opposite. Camus’ philosophy of absurdism is to encourage individuals to confront the absurdity of life with courage and revolt.

In 1942, Albert Camus wrote a book called The Myth of Sisyphus. Inside, he famously presented his view on the search for reason in an unreasonable world.

The Myth of Sisyphus

The Myth of Sisyphus is an essay that starts with, as Albert Camus states, the “one truly serious philosophical problem”.1

That is, “Given the meaninglessness of our existence, shouldn’t we just kill ourselves?”

Or, to quote directly from the book, the question is:

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” Albert Camus

Not an opening line you’d expect from a book, would you?

The answer, as you’d suspect – after all, this is not some sort of life-denying book. It’s a book about explaining life.

So, the answer in simple words is that, given the ideology of absurdism. Quitting life doesn’t solve the problem. It just prevents us from having to deal with the situation.

Dealing with absurdism is not about giving up by committing suicide. It’s about understanding the human condition.

And to help us properly comprehend the human condition. In the book, Camus compares human existence to the Greek king, Sisyphus. A character from Greek mythology condemned to roll a rock up to the top of a mountain, only to have the rock roll back down to the bottom every time he reaches the top -repeating the task for eternity.

Sisyphus-and-absurdism
Sisyphus – condemned to an eternal boulder-rolling task. A symbol of absurdism.

And while the futile labor is a hideous punishment. Camus concludes the following:

“The struggle itself… is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” Albert Camus

Imagine Sisyphus happy? How that can be?

It turns out, that this is the only reasonable response in the unreasonable world. The best way to deal with absurdism.

How to Deal With Absurdism?

In his writings, Camus proposed three possible responses to deal with the absurd world: suicide, religious belief, or revolting against the absurd.

However, he noted that the first two don’t deal with the problem as much as they try to get around it.

Let’s look at these one by one:

1. Quitting life

A radical response to the absurdity in the world is to commit suicide. As noted above, for Camus, this is the only “really serious philosophical problem” – continue living or resign from this theater.

The question is motivated by the lack of different outcomes. In particular, no matter how hard someone tries to lead a meaningful life, this goal is never reached since the universe is stripped of meaning.

And though mentioning this as a possible response to the unreasonable world. Albert Camus is highly against suicide. Thus, a different approach must be pursued.

This leads to…

2. Abandoning Reason

A quite popular alternative response to the apparent absurdity of life is to imagine that there is a higher purpose. That what philosophers try to propose with the philosophy of absurdism is trash.

In this situation, you abandon reason and you decide to engage in a ready-made ideology – e.g., become a member of a religious doctrine. Or, alternatively, you choose to dedicate your life to the advancement of the human race through developing technologies and completely ignore the absurdity of the universe – of course, any other dedications are possible.

Though, your actions will play a small – a lot of times insignificant – part of the overarching purpose. Your participation in the chosen cause will act as a source of meaning. Source often strong enough to help you escape the apparent meaninglessness of living.

However, the philosopher Albert Camus rejects this response, too. He labels this as another form of suicide – philosophical suicide.2

Philosophical suicide refers to the act of evading absurdity by assuming that your chosen higher purpose really is meaningful.

When you enter a state of philosophical suicide, you surrender your worries to the created belief system. But you also surrender your intellectual honesty and critical thinking.

Both types of suicide to avoid the absurd are unacceptable to Camus. Another approach must be found…

3. Constant Revolt

If fleeing life and joining a religion are both not options, what should we do?

The only reasonable response to the absurdity of living – also recommended by philosophers – is that we should face it directly. To revolt.

As Albert Camus says himself:

“One of the only coherent philosophical positions is thus revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity.” Albert Camus

As Sisyphus accepted the meaninglessness of his task. The absurdity of his situation. Camus thinks that we must, too, find joy in the struggle and the unescapable purposelessness of life.

He elaborates by stating:

“The realization that life is absurd cannot be an end, but a beginning.” Albert Camus

While the temptation to escape the absurdity of life through rejection and labeling it as nonsense might seem easy. Camus encourages individuals to confront it with rebellion and acceptance.

The one who can embrace the absurdity of the universe. Continue to operate without falling into despair. Act with courage and determination is what Albert Camus calls becoming an absurd hero.

Becoming an Absurd Hero

When you become an absurd hero, you retreat from the illusion of an afterlife or eternal salvation. You accept your own freedom and take full responsibility for your actions.

The concept of the absurd hero is a central theme in Camus’ philosophical essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”.

The conclusion of the book is the bold statement of…

“One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Yes, Sisyphus is condemned to roll a boulder to the top of the mountain, only to see it roll back down for eternity. Yet, what makes Sisyphus heroic here is not just the fact that he accepts his fate, but his transcendence over the situation.

Despite the repetitive nature of his task, Sisyphus refuses to succumb to despair or resignation. He refuses to weep or complain about his condition. He does not passively submit to his punishment, but actively engages with it.

The agonizing boulder-rolling task is a perfect metaphor for the human condition.

We daily engage in backbreaking labor without any higher purpose, or adequate payoff, and we are forced to do all of this till our very end.

Still, according to Camus, we shouldn’t despair. What we should do is adopt the qualities of Sisyphus and transcend our situation.

This can be done with three things:

1. Revolt:

To the question: “Does the realization of the absurd require suicide?” Camus boldly declares: “No. It requires revolt.”

“Revolt,” here means a person’s conscious choice to confront the absurdity of existence with courage, defiance, and a rebellious spirit.

The act of embracing life’s lack of ultimate meaning and still choosing to live authentically and passionately.

2. Live in the moment

The absurd hero doesn’t hope for an eternal afterlife. His current life is not focused on pleasing pre-made social of religious systems. He accepts his fate and finds value in his current tasks – no matter how futile they seem.

For Sisyphus, fixating on reaching the top of the hill with the bolder is of no use. After all, he will do this again the next day. Instead, he embraces the present moment, finding fulfillment in the very act of pushing the boulder.

Absurdism is about finding value in the present experience, rather than seeking a distant afterlife or an external salvation as the source of meaning.

3. Passion

Having a passion for life is a main component of the absurd hero. Since hope for a place in heaven has been rejected as a possible outcome. Camus concludes that every moment must be lived fully.

And what better way to live fully, but to live fully with passion?

Albert Camus considers passionate artists as people who can easily deal with absurdism. A lifestyle where a person expresses himself without the limits of reason, it’s a lifestyle full of joy.

An absurd artist recognizes the lack of meaning but he is still unmoved by the pointlessness of living. He keeps creating instead of resigning and admitting defeat.

Why is Absurdism Important To Understand?

What makes absurdism different from all the other -isms – existentialism, nihilism (optimistic nihilism, and existential nihilism). Is the absurd situation we are all facing when we realize that life is indeed meaningless.

We want our lives to be meaningful, but the source code of the universe lacks this concept.

And while this paradoxical situation can unlock waves of despair. The importance of understanding absurdism is not about acquiring a sense of aimlessness along with deep despair for living.

It’s about acting despite the acknowledgment of life’s lack of inherent meaning.

Igniting ambition and drive even though you are fully aware of the absurdity of the situation requires great effort. Not just a physical struggle, but a mental one, too. And yet, to affirm the absurdity of our existence and continue pushing, this is probably the only philosophically coherent response to the absurdism philosophy.3

Some Closing Thoughts

A big part of living a good life is finding something good to live for.

But the Camus philosophy throws all of our hopes into the trash.

Accepting the absurd world can be difficult, as we are conditioned to long meaning and purpose. We have years of conditioning towards a purposeful existence.

And while the initial feelings you get from the Camus philosophy can evoke a range of complex gloomy emotions. Absurdism also opens the door to a profound sense of liberation and empowerment.

Albert Camus asserts that we should embrace the absurdity of human existence. Then, take on the heavy task of creating value and meaning in the face of a meaningless universe.

Though condemned to participate in a pointless task for eternity. Sisyphus is a happy man and we must strive to emulate his resilience.

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Footnotes:

  1. Camus, A. The Myth of Sisyphus, trans. O’Brien, Justin (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1975). Available at: Google Scholar
  2. Stoyles, B. (2012). PHILOSOPHICAL SUICIDE. Think, 11(30), 73-84. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1477175611000376
  3. Pölzler, Thomas (2014). Absurdism as Self-Help: Resolving an Essential Inconsistency in Camus’ Early Philosophy. Journal of Camus Studies 2014:91-102. Available at: https://philpapers.org/rec/PLZAAS
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