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In The Myth of Sisyphus and other Essays, Albert Camus seeks to answer the question of the meaning of life. To do this, he plays on the idea of the "absurd," the conflict between man's search for meaning, and the world's apparent meaninglessness. Together, these two variables combine to create absurdity in their conflict. He states that the meaning of life is to live in revolt of the absurd, and let the goal of rolling the stone up the hill be your purpose.

I don't understand, so let me explain my position.

Camus is of the mind that in revolt against absurdity (that absurdity being the clash of the spirit and the world) we discover the meaning of life. I humbly disagree.

Revolting against something undesirable always has meaning... But only if there's meaning behind the revolt. Revolting against something so prevalent and undefeatable in our lives however, does not carry the meaning that would facilitate a purpose in life, for it bears no meaning whatsoever. Instead, it brings another absurdity to the table: the absurdity between the perception of meaning, and the reality of the meaninglessness of revolt against something undefeatable.

Thus, Camus' reasoning is lost on me. The very absurdity he attempts to revolt against leads to the birth of a new absurdity.

Perhaps Camus finds meaning in a meaningless revolt against an all-powerful absurd force, but I can't find a modicum of purpose in fighting an undefeatable opponent.

  • Camus, from youth, had weak lungs and an accompanying dread of death; but this did not obscure the beauty of the world and life, for him, the beauty he felt acutely. This produced a long lasting clash of the two irreconcilable matters in him. He felt expelled out of the feast of life where there is no part for him. Good side life is cold and ignoring to him. This is the context which might help you understand his intellectual position better. – ttnphns Jul 29 at 19:59
  • In particular, it might hint that the revolt of (the early-middle) Camus is not against the absurdity, but is inside it, for, indeed, the meaning (the good side) is not absent, it is what always behind the glass or is as a moon (which Caligula demanded). – ttnphns Jul 29 at 20:08
  • So Camus wanted to live in and through the constant absurd, not to take it away. Leaps from the absurd to here or there (God, suicide, false victory) he refused. – ttnphns Jul 29 at 20:12
  • Forgive me if I misinterpret his ideas, but isn't this the very notion he was against? Simply existing without revolt and finding meaning in the midst of absurdity is the very leap you describe. Am I supposed to believe that he goes to intellectual war against existentialists to merely act on what he described as philosophical suicide? Does he describe the human predicament extensively and then simply state: "but as long as you know absurdity exists, keep living your otherwise meaningless life happily, because now that you know absurdity exists, your life has been bestowed with meaning." – Alan Hagedorn Jul 29 at 23:21
  • Camus doesn't say that Sisyphus (a figure of a stoic in revolt) finds any meaning of life in rolling the boulder instead of the meaning of life he feels he's deprived of due to the absurdity of existence. (It is we who can/should find him happy watching his idle effort.) On the contrary, Sisyphus for himself is supporting absurdity by selecting going on living and without God. Meaning of life is always in the state to elude, not to vanish, because world/nature is beautiful, not ugly, and is worth, but is not given/comprehensive (irresponsive). – ttnphns Jul 30 at 2:01
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Albert Camus gives in the preface an explanation of his intent:

The fundamental subject of The Myth of Sisyphus is this: it is legitimate and necessary to wonder whether life has a meaning; therefore it is legitimate to meet the problem of suicide face to face. The answer, underlying and appearing through the paradoxes which cover it, is this: even if one does not believe in God, suicide is not legitimate.

For comparison, consider what Bertrand Russell had to say about "meaning or purpose" in a letter to Hugh Moorhead:

Thank you for your letter. I enclose the Leibniz, but I have not written in anything about "The meaning or purpose of life". Unless you assume a God the question is meaningless, & like Laplace "je n'ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse".

The OP notes the following:

Camus is of the mind that in revolt against absurdity (that absurdity being the clash of the spirit and the world) we discover the meaning of life. I humbly disagree.

Camus may actually agree with the OP. For him recognizing absurdity generates a personal crisis. It forces one to consider "the problem of suicide". This book does not resolve the crisis. Camus would pursue the issue in The Rebel. What he has to say in The Myth of Sisyphus is only one attempt to approach the problem.

The reason to bring Russell into this is to compare them. They both take an atheistic position, but they approach their daily lives, the "clash of the spirit and the world", very differently. Camus finds rolling the rock up the hill so problematic it suggests suicide as a solution. Russell doesn't seem to mind spending his life on absurd tasks. He considers the question "meaningless".

One might think that taking a theistic position is a way out, but it just moves the tension to a theistic frame of reference. Camus seems to recognize this. The theist who doesn't mind rolling the rock up the hill is like the atheist Russell. Both of them are quite happy to keep busy with their daily tasks. However, when things go bad, when the rock rolls back down and they are no longer in control of it, both the theist and the atheist like Camus take the problem seriously again.


Camus, A. The myth of Sisyphus. Retrieved on July 29, 2019, from Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/AlbertCamusTheMythOfSisyphus

Moorhead, H. S. The meaning of life. (1988) Chicago Review Press. Retrieved on July 27, 2019, from Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/meaningoflife00hugh/page/164

  • "One might think that taking a theistic position is a way out, but it just moves the tension to a theistic frame of reference." How so? I prefer to think of a theistic position as realizing that the stone is a worldly view of reality. The stone represents imperfection and a lack of meaning in the world, but if someone believed the world, or existence rather did have meaning via transcendence, would it not be fair to remove the stone from the picture, as the absurdity of interplay between spirit and world would be resolved? – Alan Hagedorn Jul 29 at 18:43
  • @AlanHagedorn There are different theistic beliefs. Some, such as a belief in Gaia, may not help much with the absurdity of rolling that stone. Others, even if the God is powerful enough, have believers who think rolling the stone gives them something to do which distracts them from relying on God. They don't take advantage of their theism. I think this is why Camus doesn't take theism seriously as a solution. For theists who actually submit to their God, and do not rely on their own stone rolling efforts, it may be a real solution. Then it should give them the meaning they seek.. – Frank Hubeny Jul 29 at 20:21
  • Sure, that makes sense. Perhaps I was talking about religion from too narrow a view. – Alan Hagedorn Jul 29 at 23:11
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If I understand your question, you seem to be saying that resistance is futile, therefore revolting against impossible odds is meaningless.

I have a couple comments on that.

First, Sisyphus' role in life was to continually push a giant boulder up a mountainside. That's pretty meaningless, right? But instead of break down and cry, he accepted his lot stoically.

Loosely translated, we can argue that, even if you can't accomplish your goal (e.g. ridding the world of evil), you can still make yourself stronger by fighting against impossible odds.

Second, fighting against impossible odds isn't necessarily meaningless, even from a societal perspective.

Any large scale revolt is going to shake up a country's leadership. After squelching the revolution, the country's leaders can then punish the rebels, but they may also modify their policies in order to reduce the appetite for further revolution.

In the U.S., the once powerful Socialist Party has become a ghost of its former self; most of today's self-described socialist candidates probably aren't even real socialists.

Yet the socialists accomplished great things for this country. Think about some of the workers' rights and protections we enjoy, for example. And the mere threat of a socialist revival forces the ruling class to watch its step. As bad as things are for U.S. workers (even compared to Europeans), they'd probably be worse if there had never been a powerful Socialist party. They'd be worse if there were no Sisyphuses to continue fighting the impossible fight.

Disclaimer: Though I've become a big fan of Albert Camus, I'm not yet really knowledgeable about his ideas, and I don't know if he would have agreed with a word I wrote above. However, I think he would indeed agree that fighting against impossible odds isn't necessarily meaningless.

  • "...you can still make yourself stronger by fighting against impossible odds." This isn't untrue, but it doesn't answer the question. If, for the sake of argument, we presume that revolt is futile, this doesn't change anything or give life any more meaning. It simply is a truth that ultimately doesn't matter. – Alan Hagedorn Jul 28 at 21:10
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    I think a lot hinges on the meaning of the word "meaning." You suggest that revolt doesn't give life meaning. But what DOES give life meaning? If life can't have any meaning whatsoever, then Camus and Sisyphus are both a joke. But if life can indeed have meaning, then who decides what makes it meaningful? For me, revolt is far more meaningful than watching football or playing Xbox. – David Blomstrom Jul 28 at 21:15
  • Your fourth paragraph is confusing. You suggest that revolt is indeed meaningful..."But only if there's meaning behind the revolt." So there's meaning behind some revolts but not others. Can you give us some examples? – David Blomstrom Jul 28 at 21:16
  • "you can still make yourself stronger by fighting against impossible odds." This is true, but it doesn't answer the question. If, for the sake of argument, we presume that revolt is futile, this doesn't give life any more meaning. It simply is a truth that ultimately doesn't matter. "fighting against impossible odds isn't necessarily meaningless" This is true, but again I don't believe it relates. Your example states that even though they had no chance of success, they still influenced policies today, but we're fighting a battle with no chance of effecting anything, rendering it meaningless. – Alan Hagedorn Jul 28 at 21:18
  • Apologies for repeating the comment, new to formatting. – Alan Hagedorn Jul 28 at 21:18
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I think what Camus is trying to say is that realizing life's absurdity liberates us. When we realize that life is ultimately meaningless, it frees us from the constraints of our culture and upbringing - we can choose how we want to live.

From there I don't think Camus' points out embracing life as the only noble purpose, but rather highlights it because pushing the rock up the hill is something we're forced to do. Because we're forced to push the rock up the hill, Camus considers embracing this reality as a particularly noble goal, or at least helpful mindset.

This meaning of Camus' isn't some kind of logically bullet-proof maxim, but rather just a subjective perspective of his. It would be quite reasonable for someone to disagree.

  • If you permit, I'd completely agree with the 1st paragraph, but not the second. Who or what forces us? Social life? But we are free from any constraints of it (paragraph 1) so why not prefer suicide instead of pushing the rock? – ttnphns Jul 31 at 11:40
  • Well I think if we're pursuing meaning we're starting from the assumption that we want to live. But sure, if you don't see any value in your life suicide could be an option. Otherwise, we're forced into an attempt to survive. – Canadian Coder Jul 31 at 12:55
  • "Because we're forced to push the rock up the hill, Camus considers embracing this reality as a particularly noble goal, or at least helpful mindset." But that's my issue with Camus, I don't understand where the "noble" or "helpful" elements stem from. To whom is revolt against the undefeatable helpful? For what purpose is it noble? I'm not saying that there is no meaning in life, I think that Camus is right in a lot of his observations, but dead wrong in his conclusions. – Alan Hagedorn Aug 1 at 4:01
  • @Alan, "rebel" is a way to stage the absurdity of one's (ours) existential situation, for Camus, not to recover from the absurdity. So it is not "helpful" in this sense. "Noble"? - that could be in the eyes of some there in the stalls only. – ttnphns Aug 1 at 6:51
  • You will not be able to understand or feel Camus' reasoning in case you think there is meaning in life and that suicide is a strange deed and is not for you. – ttnphns Aug 1 at 6:55

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