Sisyphus, just like the absurd man, keeps pushing. Camus claims that when Sisyphus acknowledges the futility of his task and the certainty of his fate, he is freed to realize the absurdity of his situation and to reach a state of contented acceptance. With a nod to the similarly cursed Greek hero Oedipus, Camus concludes that "all is well," indeed, that "one must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Foucault is opposed to an analysis of history in which consciousness is "sovereign". Marx, he claims, decenters the subject, does not work out a system of values or ideal society. And, similarly, Nietzsche is not searching for origins and does not have rationality as a telos. Instead, Foucault argues for discontinuities and against history as a place of "tranquillized sleep" (p16 Archaeology of Knowledge).

Is he, then, absolutely opposed to absurdism and its never-ending tasks, ones that we should accept as our fate?

  • Camus, Foucault, Marx & Nietzsche : rather a wide range for a single question.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 12:36
  • i can cut out the reference to marx and nietzsche, but the phrase about subjectivity would then be limited to a metaphor, about everything "returning to the subject" @GeoffreyThomas
    – user35983
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 12:37
  • 1
    I was conveying an impression. Perhaps best to leave the question as it is and to see how others react to it.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 14:19
  • ok! @GeoffreyThomas will do so, and i hope any negative opinions come with a comment
    – user35983
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 14:20
  • 2
    I share your irritation with unexplained negatives. If something is wrong, or thought to be so, with one's question or answer, it's helpful to know what it is.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 14:22

1 Answer 1


For Foucault, like Nietzsche, there is a kind of evolutionary dynamic to knowledge. The idea of money say, is not objectively real, but a society with it will have additional capacities, which help in some ways to spread their mode of life - metaphorical truth, derived from advantage by living as though something were objectively true. Power and success in struggles of one society with another as the final arbiter of truth, have appeal in looking at sweeps of history, and trying to understand social change and religion. Obviously concerns for Foucault, and Nietzsche.

It is not really a tenable interpretation of truth though. Developing atom bombs was not just a shift in global power, it relied on accurate physics, an accurate map of the world. Foucault, & I suspect Nietzsche, would say the bomb design is true because of it's power. But it becomes essentially tautological; as highlighted by trying to apply this approach to truth to mathematics. Jordan Peterson founders on the same rocks.

Needless to say Camus is in a discourse about existential concerns, not social and historical ones. L'Etranger contrasts exactly these, highlighting I would say the greater power of the individual as locus, that society and history can only be influences and enact themselves through individuals taking up their narratives.

These are different language games. Camus' approach can be more (or less) appealing, but it can't 'win' as being more factual, because that is the wrong language game. Choosing philosophies and thinking about how to live with others is in the domain of metaphorical rather than epistemological truths, of what Foucault and Nietzsche identify as power, through making a success of the lives of people who hold a view.

Camus' paradigm relies on an individuals experience being in some way isolated from the social and historical context. Through accepting absurdity, these influences can no longer be seen as having inevitable causal power, even at the loss of the idea we are fundamentally rational beings.

The private language argument puts the nails in the coffin of this kind of implicit dualism though. We are not disembodied minds, we cannot seperate ourselves, our modes of life, or our symbols and tools of thought, from social and historical influences. Buddhist thought I think deals with this, through a practice of becoming liberated from psychological causation, from karma, but which cannot liberate you from the ripening of previously caused karma, including all the causes and conditions for you to be here at all. But it is a motiveless state, and especially in the Zen tradition you can see examples of how it can be interpreted as direct connection with the absurd, with the confrontation between our absolute need to derive meaning from the world, and it's complete inability to supply it. Buddhist thought is able to reconcile the individual existential view, and social and historical influences, with our deeper freedom, and the meaningless absurd nature of reality. With tools like Seung Sahn's Zen compass, or Nagarjuna's rejecting the view of rejecting views, the ladder is drawn up after us like by Wittgenstein. Truth is not located in axioms or origins or telos' but in structures and practices of use themselves, not simple abstract types but self-referencing strange loops - a ladder is what we use as a ladder, when we do so.

When you look at how we live together, use evolutionary arguments and observe power relations. When you examine the individual finding the nature of their freedom to act, consider the absurd. But there is always another view, another discourse, a different place to stand which can encompass more. But, some ways of drawing a map highlight different aspects of the territory, whatever works.

  • interesting answer. so: less divergent that i supposed?
    – user35983
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 14:59
  • 1
    @confused Engaged with different concerns, and not necessarily in conflict. I think Foucault's is the narrower less flexible view, and deals better with the past than the future. Foucault has already decided meaning is derived from power, before using that definition. That can't encompass experiencing the absurd as meaningful. But evolutionary power dynamics can be one more rock we roll up the hill.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 15:08
  • why do you say that F. is more about the past than the future, are you being dogmatic? does F. address that explicitly at any point?
    – user35983
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 19:37

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