So, I just got into absurdism (formally-as a "branch" in philosophy, though I had been thinking in similar terms for a longer period now), and currently am reading "The Myth of Sysiphus" by Albert Camus. Also, I am looking into nihilism and existentialism.

Now, it seems to me (or I had not grasped it yet) that philosophers that write about such topics do not elaborate clearly on the question why is there no intrinsic meaning; they just seem to take it as a presumption. I'm interested in learning how did people like Camus arrive at that conclusion. How does one back-up the claim that there is no intrinsic meaning to life? Thanks

  • You can see Existentialism for a clear overview of the path that leads from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to Heidegger and Jaspers and then to Sartre and Camus. Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 8:54
  • Other sources of interest: Nihilism and Life meaning. Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 9:20
  • Thank you for your answer! I'll definitely look into this as soon as the time will allow.
    – forbes
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 10:41
  • Camus insists that even if there is no meaning to life, one must act as though there is - the absurd position - which redeems Sisyphus. Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 3:31

4 Answers 4


You can see :

In its pages [The Myth of Sisyphus], Camus pursues the perennial prey of philosophy — the questions of who we are, where and whether we can find meaning, and what we can truly know about ourselves and the world — less with the intention of capturing them than continuing the chase. [...] For Camus, however, this astonishment [at the core of human existence] results from our confrontation with a world that refuses to surrender meaning. It occurs when our need for meaning shatters against the indifference, immovable and absolute, of the world.

Camus refers to Kierkegaard as one of the great explorers of the absurd, but we can see also Pascal:

[Pascal] was famously frightened by “the silence of these infinite spaces,” Kierkegaard was terrified by the prospect of a life lived in the absurd.

See also:

for Kierkegaard, the absurd refers to that quality of Christian faith that runs counter to all mundane human experience.

[In] The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) Camus claims that the absurd arises out of the “confrontation between human need and the unreasonable silence of the world”. Human beings are naturally inclined to want and expect the world to be intelligible “in the full and familiar ways that religious and philosophical systems have portrayed it”. This kind of intelligibility purports to be comprehensive, to explain the world as a whole, and crucially, it purports to explain the world “in terms that human beings care about”, in ways that make sense “with respect to human values”. In Camus’s view, neither human existence nor the world are themselves absurd. Instead the absurd arises because the world is resistant to this kind of intelligibility: “we want the world to make sense, but it does not make sense. To see this conflict is to see the absurd”. “If there is an absurd,” Camus says at one point, “it is in man’s universe”. What normally brings the individual into confrontation with his absurd condition, suggests Camus, is the awareness not of human mortality per se, but of his own personal mortality. In the case of Camus himself, this awareness came with his first attack of tuberculosis, in 1930 or 1931, at the age of seventeen.


From a existentialist perspective, all tastes, all values, norms, all standards, all morality is inherently subjective and arbitrary to a point.

From a existentialist perspective, the only meaning there is to life is the meaning that you as an individual adhere to it. The only morals there are to life, are the subjective and largely arbitrary morals that you as an individual choose to adhere to. The only goals in life are the goals you set for yourself.

It essentially means that life is yours to create!

Existentialism is often discussed as if it's a philosophy of despair. But I think the truth is just the opposite. Sartre once interviewed said he never really felt a day of despair in his life. But one thing that comes out from reading these guys is not a sense of anguish about life so much as a real kind of exuberance of feeling on top of it. It's like your life is yours to create.

— Robert Solomon, philosophy professor at the University of Texas

  • I understand that, but my question was why do existentialist claim that everything is subjective, and there is no "objective" or intrinsic meaning. thanks for your answer anyway.
    – forbes
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 9:33
  • Although morality is not absolute, judgement can be made whether one form of morality is better than another, so meaning can be discerned in making this judgement. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 9:46
  • @ChrisDegnen : Whether one form of morality is better than another, is also subjective and largely arbitrary, as there is no objective moral standard one can use to compare different subjective moral standards. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 9:58
  • @forbes : I believe this scene from Terry Pratchett's Hogfather explains it pretty well. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 10:00

The idea of imposed meaning is not reconcilable with free will. However, I believe Camus and the Dadaists were more influenced by the trauma and senselessness of world war.

Imposed meaning, purpose or law, such as "Go forth and multiply", can be analysed and overridden by a conscious free-willed individual. However, one cannot ignore the logic of reason. Morality is not absolute, but the inevitability of reasoning can reveal one moral code to be better or worse than another. In the end, reason provides meaning.

This leads me to repeat a recent quote of Thomas Aquinas:

True peace consists in not separating ourselves from the will of God.

... who, in metaphorical or real sense, just wishes us to be our best selves.

There's meaning. Perhaps the existentialists are rejecting some other meaning. If they are rejecting all meaning then their position is paradoxical, because they are trying to make sense and meaninglessness simultaneously.


I disagree with you that Camus doesn't try to show why there is no (absolute) meaning of life (you can argue about the quality and blind spots in his reasoning though ;-D.)

  • First he tries reason (with can be used for anything),
  • then he tries his senses (with fail on an atomic level),
  • then he tries the philosophers he likes and they all make this leap where they take away the uncertainty and replace it with God.

You could summarize all these arguments and say that Camus argues that there is no meaning in life because there is no ultimate Truth. No Truth means no ultimate meaning to life.

*(This reasoning -- that you have to know the truth to live a good meaningful life -- is called the Socratic command in a Dutch book on nihilism (Goudsblom, 1960)

  • But how can one jump to the conclusion that there's no absolute truth? Pardon me because I'm not very familiar with philosophical concepts, but why isn't there a consensus that whether or not there is a purpose to life is just a question that we don't know the answer to yet? Especially when you mention that his search using senses failed on an atomic level, it's obvious that he had probably reached certain limitations due to the state of science back then. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 21:29
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    @HighVoltage People, namely existentialists, object to meaning and purpose where it imperatively tells them how to live. Being philosophers, they have transcended the tyranny of the instincts, both biological and tribal. However, in the simplicity of the purpose of life being to live, and to fathom how to live (and how life lives), they are generally in agreement. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 22:03
  • @Jan Cornelis: I figured that Camus rejects reason and science because they necessarily lead us to the atom (and even to subatomic particles) which we don't trully know compared to, say, roughness of wood (which we can experience). Atom is just a representation of sorts. What I don't understand is why he rejects feelings and emotions. All he does, basically, is stating that there are feelings "deep in the heart" that one can't trully cognize. He gives no explanation why that should be true. Also, there are other states of conciousness he doesn't consider such as drugs and meditation .
    – forbes
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 20:47
  • @forbes Haha, I agree Mr. Camus has a lot of blind spots in his essay. A lot of the consciouness states that, lets say a religious, mystic or 'intoxinated' person can have are not given the attention the deserve. However, in the light of total certainty, of "absolute truth" there is always the argument that it could be different. I think that is the point Camus is aiming at. If you make a "choice" for a certain emotion or experience it is moving out of the absurd, in to a meaningful life. It is choosing one affect above the other. Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 22:41
  • @HighVoltage "why isn't there a consensus that whether or not there is a purpose to life is just a question that we don't know the answer to yet?" If you "believe" in the progress of knowledge to an all knowing state that is ok. But that doesn't change this situation of uncertainty in which we do not now what the purpose is right now. A belief in a delayed answer is also a leap over the absurd. Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 22:50

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