I think he was saying 'What makes life worth living?'. I do think that's important, but aren't other questions 'serious' too?

For me my topics I care about are meta/norm ethics, theology, metaphysics. But if I had to pick I think norm ethics would be the most important. For me an ethical life, is a meaningful life. I can't see someone evil having a good meaningful life.

I'd argue there are other serious questions. But maybe he was saying 'what makes life worth living' is the most important one. My duties are what makes my life worth living. which is ethics. So if someone wants to major in logic, law, religion, mind, that is cool and I support it. But does it matter? It seems rude to even ask this, but hey I'm quoting Camus.

  • He was wrong. There are many serious problems in philosophy. We may charitably interpret him as exaggerating for dramatic effect. The thinking might go that if there is no purpose to living then there is no purpose to any other philosophical questions either, so the question of whether there's a purpose to living must be settled first. The objection I've always had to this is that if there's no point to living, then what's the point of dying, either? All courses of action, living or dying, would be equally meaningless, so there would be no reason to favor dying over living.
    – causative
    Commented Jul 3, 2023 at 3:02
  • To which the response might be - well, if you die, at least you avoid the struggle and suffering of life. But in that case, the struggle and suffering of life is meaningful after all, even if only a negative sense. That opens the door to other things, such as joy and discovery, also being meaningful.
    – causative
    Commented Jul 3, 2023 at 3:04

1 Answer 1


“There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that”

-Camus, in The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

I see Camus as saying, if you can't make the choice not to commit suicide, you will go into non-being with no other problems. So finding a reason to not die, is the first and primary problem, which preserves life to face any other problem. Perhaps you have to drink far too much coffee and spend all your time with people who wish they were revolutionaries but live under Nazi occupation, for this framing to seem obvious.

He also said in his semi-autobiography:

"He realized now that to be afraid of this death he was staring at with animal terror meant to be afraid of life. Fear of dying justified a limitless attachment to what is alive in man. And all those who had not made the gestures necessary to live their lives, all those who feared and exalted impotence— they were afraid of death because of the sanction it gave to a life in which they had not been involved. They had not lived enough, never having lived at all. And death was a kind of gesture, forever withholding water from the traveler vainly seeking to slake his thirst. But for the others, it was the fatal and tender gesture that erases and denies, smiling at gratitude as at rebellion."

-Camus, in A Happy Death

This is reminiscent of Nietzsche on 'downgoers' as 'overgoers', that is that we need to go beyond fearing death or pain, to fully embrace life and joy.

For Camus suicide was an ever-present option, his bonds to life and to other people which might have drawn him back were minimal:

"Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee? But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself."
-Camus, also in A Happy Death

This can be related to Durkheim's book Suicide: A Study in Sociology, from which:

"Melancholy suicide. —This is connected with a general state of extreme depression and exaggerated sadness, causing the patient no longer to realize sanely the bonds which connect him with people and things about him. Pleasures no longer attract"

He related anomie, the purposelessness that leads to suicide, to social decohesion and loss of connection to others. This is part not of our intellectual domain, but of our animal nature, which knows that without the tribe we are likely doomed. It is an intellectuals blindspot, to feel the suffering, but not recognise it's actual cause, and so see it as fundamental and inescapable, I think.

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