Absurdism as a worldview theory is a part of the philosophy of existentialism; and as the fundamental philosophical concept it was firstly developed in the work of Albert Camus “The Myth of Sisyphus”. As a system of philosophical views, it claims the lack of meaning of human life (the absurdity of life existence). According to the absurdism, people have been trying to find the meaning of existence throughout their history. Traditionally, these attempts have ended in one of two ways: man has come to the conclusion that all life is senseless or he has started to understand that everything is predetermined by some higher forces and that he is powerless. The theory of absurdism was discussed by a number of philosophers, and although each of them accepted the absurdity of life, they had different reasons for claiming that human existence is meaningless.
As it was presented earlier, the founder of the absurdism theory is French philosopher Albert Camus, and his fundamental work, essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”, is based on the ancient Greek story about Sisyphus. Richard Taylor, the American philosopher, in his work “Does Life Have a Meaning?” also refers to the myth of Sisyphus in order to explain the meaning of absurd. According to Taylor, life does not have any significant sense or reasons to be lived worthily, because every single thing or deed that the human being is doing is nothing – it only causes another action to perform, and people do the same things every day throughout their lives, and then other generations will do these things in the same order. “Each step only leads to repetition of itself” says Taylor (1970, p. 78), every person’s struggle during his life is wasting of time; it is useless since every human life ends with the death: “It is not that his great struggle comes to nothing, but that his existence is without meaning” (Taylor, 1970, p. 79).
Richard Taylor states that absurdity of life consists of a cyclicity of all people’s struggles during their lives and what is more important – the senseless of these struggles, its uselessness. Forever, on and on human beings performs the same actions in order to survive, and all their efforts lead to nothing. The myth that was proposed by Camus and Taylor is a good example of human existence. And even if Sisyphus found the sense in rolling the stone to the top of the hill again and again, even if he loved doing it and could not imagine his life without rolling the huge stone to the top of the hill (that, surely, rolled down every time), it still would not mean that Sisyphus does the useful, necessary and important thing, it would only mean that he is still doing pointless toil. Richard Taylor proves “This life of the world thus presents itself to our eyes as a vast machine, feeding on itself, running on and on forever to nothing. And we are part of that life.” (Taylor, 1970, p. 81)
Albert Camus in his work “An Absurd Reasoning” describes the mechanical life of men: “Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm – this path is easily followed most of the time” (1955, p. 67). The philosopher says that the first reason for existence is a habit and as long as people are the hostages of their own habits as well as they are unaware of the meaningless of these habits, the life will be an absurd and without any sense. Furthermore, in “An Absurd Reasoning” the author presents the connection between the absurd and suicide, telling the readers that a lot of people consider the suicide as a solution to the absurdity of life: “people die, because they think life is not worth living” (Camus, 1955, p. 66), thereby the only way to stop their meaningless existence is to kill themselves. In the same time, the absurd is not the issue of a single person, it concerns the whole world: “The absurd depends as much on man as on the world” (Camus, 1955, p. 70); the absurdity of life touches everyone and as soon as every human understands that his life is senseless, it will be easier to accept the hard truth of life.
It also should be mentioned that Albert Camus has been always raising the theme of the absurdity of life in his fiction. His story “The Stranger” is considered to be the demonstrative manifest of human’s absolute freedom, where the human existence is presented as a chain of coincidences that mostly do not depend on the will of a man, who, in his turn, adjusts to every life condition. The monologue of the main hero Meursault before the death penalty explains why he is not afraid of the death:
Well, so I’m going to die But everybody knows life isn’t worth living. Deep down I knew perfectly that it doesn’t much matter whether you die at thirty or at seventy, since in either case other men and women will naturally go on living – and for thousands of years Whether it was now or twenty years from now, I would still be the one dying Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter. (Camus, 1989, p. 114)
This is the essential thought of the absurd theory – life is meaningless, and no matter how hard you try to live happily – everything is going to end. However, another American philosopher Thomas Nagel states that the absurdity of life is not about the end of everyone’s life: “For suppose, we lived forever; would not a life that is absurd if it lasts seventy years be infinitely absurd if it lasted through eternity?” (Nagel, 1971, p. 716). Therefore, according Nagel’s theory, the absurd has no connection with the statement “Everything is pointless, because we are all going to die”.
Humanity has been trying to live with the thought of the meaninglessness of existence for more than fifty years and it also has been seeking for the way out. Albert Camus was discussing the connection between absurd and suicide and, fortunately, he told the world that the suicide is not an option and it will not solve the problem. The only thing that the humanity can do with the absurdity of life is to take it for granted and to live with it. Moreover, no one prohibits people to make the meaning of living - everyone should create his own sense of life, believe in it and live according to it. People can fill their existence with something important, but also they should keep an ironical distance between the invented sense and the knowledge about the absurdity in order to remember that this fictive sense should not replace the absurdity of existence.
Another way to deal with the meaninglessness of life is to see the situation from the different point of view. The absence of sense of life allows people to live freely: if there is not any established mission for humans, then no one should follow the rules for completing his life mission and that means absolute freedom of the people. If there was any sense of living, then no one would criticize others for ignoring this sense; then there should not be any prejudices and judgments, everyone can be free from the commitments and he will not be burning in hell after life if his life purpose is not reached. That is why it is very important to remember that although life is actually the absurd, the suicide is not an option since the only thing that is more absurd than life is an attempt to counter this absurd. Instead of killing themselves, people should find their own meaning of life, their own faith, and they should consider the absurdity of life as something that makes them free as well.
The absurdism as the philosophical conception has appeared in the 20th century as a reaction on the World Wars, human suffering, poverty and social instability and was spreading the ideas of existentialism. It has emerged because of the desperation of the humanity, the lack of faith and reasonable sense of further existence of the world. And now the humanity needs a miracle in order to find its meaning of live and to believe that the existence in this world does have sense.
Camus, A. (1955). An Absurd Reasoning. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
Camus, A. (1989). The Stranger. (M. Ward Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1942).
Nagel, T. (1971, October 21). The Absurd. The Journal of Philosophy, 716-27.
Taylor, R. (1970). Does Life Have a Meaning? New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company.