Source: pp 200-201, A Little History of Philosophy (2011 ed; not 2012 Reprint ed.) by Nigel Warburton PhD in Philosophy.
A novice, I am still easing into philosophy with introductions and do not feel prepared yet to read Camus; but please tell me if primary sources answer my question.

Albert Camus (1913–60), a novelist and philosopher also linked with existentialism, used the Greek myth of Sisyphus to explain human absurdity. Sisyphus’ punishment for tricking the gods is that he has to roll a huge rock to the top of a mountain. When he reaches the top, the rock rolls down and he has to begin from the bottom once more. Sisyphus has to do this again and again for ever. Human life is like Sisyphus’ task in that it is completely meaningless. There is no point to it: no answers that will explain everything. It’s absurd. But Camus didn’t think we should despair. We shouldn’t commit suicide. Instead we have to recognize that Sisyphus is happy. [1.] Why is he happy? [2.] Because there is something about the pointless struggle of rolling that huge rock up the mountain that makes his life worth living. [3.] It is still preferable to death.

  1. How is 2 true? What exactly about this pointless struggle ennobles such a rock roller's life?

  2. How is 3 true? Even if you must do 2 for the rest of your life, daily?

  • 1
    Ah, lovely question; +1, I am very much looking forward to reading the answers. The trouble, of course, is you're asking for a rationale for an intentionally anti-rational philosophy (it is my understanding that throughout the body of The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus went to great lengths to avoid arguing for his position, as he believed the despair caused by the contradiction between man's desire for purpose and the demonstrable purposelessness of existence preceded all reason, all philosophy). My (layman) take has been, for Sisyphus, at least, being happy was the ultimate revenge: one big FU.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 16:05
  • 1
    3 follows logically from 2. Note that 2 claims that there is something ... that makes his life worth living. So if it's true then yes, it is preferable to death. The question would then be: What is it that makes life worth living in that situation? I suggest reading this: plato.stanford.edu/entries/camus/#SuiAbsHapMytSis
    – E...
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 19:00
  • It might not be better, it only needs to not be worse. See this answer: 'was Camus right in saying 'There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.'?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/100369/…
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Apr 13 at 22:54

5 Answers 5


You have to keep in mind that "rolling the rock" purposeless, was Sisyphus' punishment. If, instead, he rolls it over wheat, he will make flour, which could be used to feed people, thereby giving purpose/value to his efforts (life). Life is not a punishment, but rather an opportunity to help others and enjoy their company, to go through the different stages of life, and to perpetuate the human species. Any one of these (a lofty goal in itself), would make life "worth more" than death. Whether life is a punishment or an opportunity is up to you.

  • 1
    +1 What a beautiful response. Finding meaning is up to you or not, I think this is the core concept of existentialism
    – How why e
    Commented Apr 11 at 2:17

Rolling a large rock up a hill is pointless, and such a task was imposed by the gods as punishment for Sisyphus; Camus, however, uses this as a symbol of the human condition when a meaningful world has been undermined by the intellectual collapse of European religion - i.e. Christianity; Camus locates meaning in the very action of living, it's this action that is symbolised by Sisyphus's task: Sisyphus is happy simply because he is living his life, with its ambiguities, its joys and sorrows, its achievements, and its failures.

Arendt would call this the vita activa, the life of action.


How is 2 true? What exactly about this pointless struggle ennobles such a rock roller's life?

Can you conclusively prove death would offer a better purpose than life (no matter what was done while alive) ?. Calling this struggle pointless assumes any other pursuit has a point. How is that true ?. It would be imposing your definition of "point" on Sisyphus' life.

The story, like many other greek mythological stories is an allegory (not to be taken literally). Sisyphus lead a greedy life filled with trickery and deceit . He wholeheartedly believed he was cleverer than the Gods and for a while managed to convince himself he had tricked Death.

Zeus then ordered Thanatos, Death, to chain King Sisyphus down below in Tartarus. Sisyphus was curious as to why Hermes, whose job it was to guide souls to the Underworld, had not appeared on this occasion. King Sisyphus slyly asked Thanatos to demonstrate how the chains worked. As Thanatos was granting him his wish, Sisyphus seized the opportunity and trapped Thanatos in the chains instead. Once Thanatos was bound by the strong chains, no one died on earth.

The punishment is not the physical labor undergone in rolling the rock. It is being trapped in the illusions created in your mind. Life is very much like rolling the heavy boulder up the steep hill. Happiness is not contingent upon any specific activity that is performed. It is state you arrive at (not because you do something) , because you choose it.

It is not true that the heart wears out — but the body creates this illusion. Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness. If they are happy by surprise, they find themselves disabled, unhappy to be deprived of their unhappiness. - Alburt Camus, Notebooks 1951-69

In that sense Camus feels the struggle and the journey to the top is all there is. (*) To believe there is more is to be imprisoned in an illusion. To stop pushing the boulder is to sacrifice happiness for your principles, to truly lose the point of being alive.

How is 3 true? Even if you must do 2 for the rest of your life, daily?

This assumes (*).

  • Like when Suzuki praised the child for answering the question: "What is the point of eating breakfast?" when the child answered: "The point of eating breakfast is to eat breakfast." Apparently, people do not want to accept that.
    – user16869
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 22:59

In this particular case, Sisyphus has a completely meaningless life, and there is no point in continuing his existence. But, when we take this analogy to real life, the work we do is not meaningless (although most of it is). Hence, suicide is not the solution to a problem, nor are we facing any problem. Life is not about repeated and pointless labour, but more of a learning, joyful experience. The very fact that we can experience certain things makes life valuable. Also, for all we know, death just might mean that we completely cease to exist, that no mind exists after our body dies, which automatically points to the fact that our time alive is extremely valuable. In the case of Sisyphus, he has no choice or scope to do anything other than push a boulder up a mountain for eternity, hence we can't take this particular case and apply its keynotes to our life.


suicide is a statement of life „being not worth". Camus talks about the most important problem within philosophy: Is life worth living? It doesn't matter if the sun rotates around the earth or if the earth around the sun if the existence itslef is meaningless. Commenting suicide out of free will, by Camus, means seeing trough the laughable habit that's within every human existence. It's the realisation of whatever you do, your habits and the cycle you repeat every day, being fundamentally meaningless. It's laughable, cause you keep following the same habits, keep on existening while being constantly in meaningless suffering, Why would he continue on living if their is no meaning to it? Why would he continue suffering is there's no deeper sense to it? Sisyphus is happy because this is his rebellion against his meaningless fate.

What about death? Nietzsche uses the ancient myth of the forest god Silen to illustrate the basic tragic attitude of the Greeks. Silenos, son of Pan and tutor of Dionysus, was half animal half man and liked to ride on a donkey. Originally a water spirit, he was famous for his prophetic gifts. There is an old legend that King Midas hunted for a long time for the wise Silen, the companion of Dionysus, in the forest without catching him. When he finally fell into his hands, the king asked what was the very best and most excellent thing for man. Stiffly and immovably the demon remained silent; until, forced by the king, he finally burst out laughing: 'Wretched one-day-creature, children of chance and toil, what do you force me to tell you that is not the most delightful thing for you to hear? The very best is completely unattainable for you: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best thing for you is to die soon." Silen's statement that the best thing for man is not to be born, not to be, or to be nothing, underscores the idea that life is fraught with suffering and pain. There is no final way out of the difficulties and challenges that life brings except death. Like Silen, one could argue that the only redemption from this endless cycle of repetition is death. Sisyphus himself cannot break out of his cycle It seems that, like Sisyphus, he is condemned to endlessly repeat what he have have done without ever finding redemption or liberation. But that's Sisyphus rebellion against that, he cannot break free but he can be happy as a sign of rebellion on this absurd punishment and life.

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