Source: The Well-Educated Mind (2 edn 2016), pp. 108 Bottom - 109 Top.

  In Camus’s philosophy of “the absurd,” there is no significance to life; all humans are condemned to death, facing the inevitable end. The only possible response is to admit that death will come and then to live actively in the present, making choices without regret. Camus writes in “The Absurd Man” that anyone who comes to terms with this truth is “imbued with the absurd.” Actions have no meaning, but they do have consequences, and “those consequences must be considered calmly . . . There may be responsible persons, but there are no guilty ones.14 Meursault’s decision to kill the Arab is acceptable because he is willing to suffer the consequences of his choice; in his willingness to act, and in his calm acceptance of death, he is the model “absurd man.”

14 Albert Camus, “The Absurd Man,” in The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, trans. Justin O’Brien (New York: Vintage Books, 1991), p. 67.

  1. I am not sure what Camus intended to say by 'coupables': moral guilt only? Or criminal guilt?

  2. Camus looks to reject the notion of guilt, but how can he possibly be correct? Surely responsibility and guilt can be distinguished, e.g. in criminal law. The original French:

  [95] Toutes les morales sont fondées sur l'idée qu'un acte a des conséquences qui le légitiment ou l'oblitèrent. Un esprit pénétré d'absurde juge seulement que ces suites doivent être considérées avec sérénité. Il est prêt à payer. Autrement dit, si, pour lui, il peut y avoir des responsables, il n'y a pas de coupables. Tout au plus, consentira-til à utiliser l'expérience passée pour fonder ses actes futurs. Le temps fera vivre le temps et la vie servira la vie. Dans ce champ à la fois borné et gorgé de possibles, tout en lui-même, hors sa lucidité, lui semble imprévisible. Quelle règle pourrait donc sortir de cet ordre déraisonnable ? La seule vérité qui puisse lui paraître instructive n'est point formelle : elle s'anime et se déroule dans les hommes. Ce ne sont donc point des règles éthiques que l'esprit absurde peut chercher au bout de son raisonnement, mais des illustrations et le souffle des vies humaines. Les quelques images qui suivent sont de celles-là. Elles poursuivent le raisonnement absurde en lui donnant son attitude et leur chal


1 Answer 1


One way of looking at guilt is to acknowledge that the experience of moral guilt is real, but that it does not mean anything. That is, the human moral faculty is not reliable although it is tempting to believe there is more meaning there than there is.

Alternatively, if one wants to take the experience of guilt more seriously then everyone is guilty as David Simpson describes how the character, Clamence, experiences guilt in The Fall: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

In the final sections of the novel, amid distinctly Christian imagery and symbolism, he declares his crucial insight that, despite our pretensions to righteousness, we are all guilty. Hence no human being has the right to pass final moral judgment on another.

The tension between the evidence of our moral and reasoning faculties and absurdist assumptions leads Camus to criticize existentialists for not remaining faithful to their “initial insight” as Ronald Aronson remarks: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

According to Camus, each existentialist writer betrayed his initial insight by seeking to appeal to something beyond the limits of the human condition, by turning to the transcendent. And yet even if we avoid what Camus describes as such escapist efforts and continue to live without irrational appeals, the desire to do so is built into our consciousness and thus our humanity. We are unable to free ourselves from “this desire for unity, this longing to solve, this need for clarity and cohesion” (MS, 51). But it is urgent to not succumb to these impulses and to instead accept absurdity. In contrast with existentialism, “The absurd is lucid reason noting its limits” (MS, 49).

Camus treats responsibility differently. He does not deny our ability to make choices and so we are still responsible for the consequences of our actions. If he assumed we did not have any free will along with assuming our moral faculties were unreliable, he could also deny our responsibility as well.

Consider the OP's question: Camus looks to reject the notion of guilt, but how can he possibly be correct?

Whether Camus is correct or not depends on whether one values the evidence of our moral faculties more or less than one values absurdist assumptions.


Aronson, Ronald, "Albert Camus", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/camus/.

Simpson, David, "Albert Camus (1913-1960)", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, URL=http://www.iep.utm.edu/camus/.

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    +1. Nice answer, difficult question.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 19:11
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    +1. I'd only remark that you should perhaps mention in the texts which concrete "existentialists" Camus saw to be philosophical escapists: Kierkegaard, Shestov, Jaspers...
    – ttnphns
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 8:30

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