My understanding of Camus is that he thinks you should find your subjective interests and run with them, but what would he say to say to a clinical psychopath born without a conscience who says he finds meaning in violating the rights of others?

He also seems to reject God but surely you could find subjective meaning in pretending he or she exists?

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    The Paradoxes of Camus’s Absurdist Philosophy: “There is only one really serious philosophical problem,” Camus says, “and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that” May 14, 2021 at 13:12
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    I always thought the focus on the personal, would seem to preclude writing a book.. But Camus seems to be saying, take all the cultural data sure, but your choice to live is your own - & the true basis of moral agency, & responsibility. Existentially.
    – CriglCragl
    May 15, 2021 at 3:04
  • Note that it is very common, for neurotypical people too, to find meanings to their lives that lead into the violation of other's rights. Think of religious or political activists, generals, CEOs... For example of a boss who is finding meaning into realising a grand project, and willing to cut corners with safety regulations. A general who thinks serving his country is very important and meaningful and therefore needs soldiers to suffer and die in both sides. A political activist who is tagging some very important slogan on your wall, etc...
    – armand
    Oct 12, 2021 at 1:39
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    The opening sentence traduces what Camus was saying and what existentialism is saying. Plus he appeared to be describing this in The Outsider. It's very well written but takes as it's protagonist an anti-hero. In other words, not somebody to emulate. There is no real meaning in 'pretending'. Oct 19, 2021 at 5:30
  • @CriglCragl Absurdism is indeed a flavor of existentialism and certainly not nihilism or moral relativism. To be morally relativistic would be to concede the personal efficacy of theological doctrine which an absurdist rejects. To introduce psychopathy in attempt to paint absurdism as amoral is a strawman.
    – J D
    Oct 29, 2021 at 15:32

3 Answers 3


Camus's absurdism is to regard both hope (leap of faith) and suicide as absurd and leave the only choice to accept and recognize life as conflict and absurd intrinsically according to reference here:

Though the notion of the 'absurd' pervades all Albert Camus's writing, The Myth of Sisyphus is his chief work on the subject. In it, Camus considers absurdity as a confrontation, an opposition, a conflict or a "divorce" between two ideals. Specifically, he defines the human condition as absurd, as the confrontation between man's desire for significance, meaning and clarity on the one hand – and the silent, cold universe on the other. He continues that there are specific human experiences evoking notions of absurdity. Such a realization or encounter with the absurd leaves the individual with a choice: suicide, a leap of faith, or recognition. He concludes that recognition is the only defensible option.

Lastly, a person can choose to embrace the absurd condition. According to Camus, one's freedom – and the opportunity to give life meaning – lies in the recognition of absurdity. If the absurd experience is truly the realization that the universe is fundamentally devoid of absolutes, then we as individuals are truly free. "To live without appeal," as he puts it, is a philosophical move to define absolutes and universals subjectively, rather than objectively.

So under this POV, we can say it's absurd for a clinical psychopath born without a conscience to say he finds meaning in violating the rights of others, and we should fully acknowledge and recognize this fact...

  • On the other hand, the psychopath can say it's absurd that we think that, and there's no court of appeal.
    – Mary
    Oct 11, 2021 at 23:51
  • @Mary yes your conclusion is totally consistent with Camus's absurdism as quoted above we as individuals are truly free. "To live without appeal," ...is a philosophical move to define absolutes and universals subjectively.... It's kind of a relativism about "meaning" of life but not necessarily imply he accepts relativism of moral or code of conducts, or any other tags. For me the hope is once one truly understands and adopts such philosophy of meaning of life which is #1 puzzle, then one must have became an illuminated one without complaints, thus will behave better in all other aspects... Oct 12, 2021 at 1:04
  • @Mary of course in reality this is rare to be expected from anyone, especially your concerned typical psychopath because hardly any one has a firm convicted personal philosophy about meaning of life. We can see it's talked about or even studied pedantically frequently, but it really needs truly understanding otherwise it will not have any effect on other tags of life... Btw, it's the OP uses the word conscious and I just followed their usage and I think either usage is fine here so no urge to edit... Oct 12, 2021 at 1:17
  • @Mary some psychopaths may not be caused by physical or biological factors, may simply have a strong philosophical conviction of their own meaning/purpose of life like OCDs and want all others to conform to their own standard. This kind of philosophy can be seen as the polar opposite of Camus' absurdism. If such psychopaths truly understand and convert to absurdism, realize even if they're finally successful with their goal judged by an outsider ultimately it's meaningless as everything occurs due to sufficient cause thus hopefully they can reflect about their previous self as absurd... Oct 13, 2021 at 19:22
  • The psychopath doesn't have to adhere to absurdism to see the absurdities of someone setting himself up as an authority because he's an absurdist.
    – Mary
    Oct 13, 2021 at 22:52

Short Answer:

Your question is probing the limits of existential and absurdist thinking regarding morality. It is a common trope among theologians that deviation from absolutist transcendental truth is tantamount to an endorsement of anarchy and evil. Absurdism might be seen as an atheistic form of existentialism that doesn't abandon truth and morality, but rather wrests it firmly away from the supernatural and places the burden on the shoulder of the thinker. As an absurdist who moved beyond Sartre, I must plead that this is not the same as the implication in your question that an absurdist would accept psycopathy and lawlessness as acceptable.

Camus and absurdism don't endorse complete relativity of fact and morality, but merely push back very firmly on the notion that society and supernatural narratives are reliable. This is clearly evident in The Plague, where the protaganist, Dr. Rieux, a man of science and ethical conduct, examines meaning and behavior amid an epidemic in North Africa. Ultimately, one can draw a firm line between absurdism which rejects gods and mob mentality from nihilism where anything goes. We absurdists are not amoral nor do we reject psychological altruism out of hand.

Long Answer:

Existentialism, Absurdism, Subjectivism, and Relativism

My understanding of Camus is that he thinks you should find your subjective interests and run with them, but what would he say to say to a clinical psychopath born without a conscience who says he finds meaning in violating the rights of others?

While Camus rejects the supernatural, absurdism is more subjectivism than relativism, though there is some overlap. The difference between the two amounts to how one looks at the foundation of morality and ethics. Subjectivist thinking in ethics would essentially argue that people disagree on morality and for different reasons, whereas relativistic thinking would be closer to adhering to the idea that there is no right or wrong. Camus and absurdism fall under the former because of his belief in morality and the limits of human ability.

From WP: Albert Camus:

Camus poses a crucial question: Is it possible for humans to act in an ethical and meaningful manner, in a silent universe? According to him the answer is yes, as the experience and awareness of the Absurd creates the moral values and also sets the limits of our actions.[91]

Absurdism is the doctrine that meaning and morality in life come from a recognition of the inherent meaninglessness of life to begin with. Whereas those who tout theological bases of morality essentially appeal to morality by fiat (God is good, and his teachings define good), an absurdist must content with the idea that life starts with an inherently meaningless state and construct meaning particularly making sense of so much absurdity. (Goodness is my personal project, and I must start by recognizing that I cannot rely on God, gods, or society to define good.) Sometimes Camus is lumped in with existentialism for this reason.

Morality, Ethics, and Good and Evil

Existentialism and absurdism don't advocate that any claimed morality is morality (one of the limits of being is that one cannot declare oneself a god), but rather that it must be consistent with the intersectionality of the temperament of the individual and facts. Absurdism is also not factually relativistic. Indeed, the main protagonist in The Plague, Dr. Rieux is a medical doctor and a man of science, and one who recognizes evil in the world. See the PhilSE post on Rieux. From page 125 Rieux says:

What's true of all the evils in the world is true of plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves. All the same, when you see the misery it brings, you'd need to be a madman, or a coward, or stone blind, to give in tamely to the plague.

So, anyone who uses the existence of psychopathy coupled with some absolutist moral relativism is crafting a strawman against absurdism. Camus didn't advocate chaos or endorse the abandonment of value, but merely railed against (like the existentialists) borrowing an inauthentic morality from society, particularly religion. This is the morality that is a false consciousness, one that isn't often consistent when it preaches love but practices war and terror, one that promises gifts from the supernatural, but one that is doctrinaire. Rieux goes on to say:

Paneloux (the town priest) is a man of learning, a scholar. He hasn't come in contact with death; that's why he can speak with such assurance of the truth.

And on page 127:

I have no idea what's awaiting me, or what will happen when all this ends. For the moment I know this; there are sick people and they need curing... What's wanted now is to make them well. I defend them as best I can, that's all.

Absurdists simply don't abandon human decency wholesale because they reject absolutist transcendental morality.

Truth in Pretense

Lastly, a quick response on finding meaning in pretense. Yes, it is possible to find meaning in pretense. Some people devote their lives to and look for wisdom in fictional narratives. But among philosophers, epistemological thinking generally and broadly holds that truth and/or Truth must be justfied, true, and believed. For existentialism and absurdism, this is particularly true because the credo is to pursue what is authentic. Thus, living a life devoted to a religious doctrine that one does not actually believe in is a form of fear or cowardice. It's precisely squaring off against that fear nihilism that is the source of existential terror. Roughly speaking, the main difference between an existentialist and an absurdist is that an existentialist ultimately appeals to a philosophy where one connects with a greater meaning which might even be theological (existentialism doesn't endorse athiesm), whereas an absurdist goes down the athiestic road with certainty.


Camus is struggling with the difficult task of pondering of what an ethics would look like in a world without God as in the western tradition, ethics has always been underpinned by an appeal to God as He is the fount of all that is Good. This tradition has been constructed over millenia.

The materialist ethics has only got going this century when the mainstream of radical thought became secular with Freud, Nietzsche and Marx. However, it has been a century of atrocities, a judgement that is illustrated by the many bleak pictures by the painter, Francis Bacon.

Whilst it took millenia for the Western world to turn its back on God as it could no longer think through the divine. When it took the secular turn, it took only a few decades to expose the contradictions in materialist ethics, existentialism. Hence the term absurdism, it's absurd to have an ethics in this kind of world. Thus Camus's illustration of a man who is perpetually a stranger to himself and to everyone else. In a world without the divine element, heroes turn into anti-heroes. And as an anti-hero, they are not somebody to emulate. If anything, to despise.

Oh, and finally there is no value or meaning in 'pretending'.

  • This seems not to be a philosophical critique so much as a pocket-sized screed against atheism. This response conflates the common dictionary definition of absurd with the complex philosophical doctrine of absurdism that extends existentialism certainly into atheism. The broad arc in Analytic and Continental philosophy is the rejection of theology as flaccid in the face of the scientific method.
    – J D
    Oct 29, 2021 at 15:49
  • @J D: I've read some of the classic absurdist texts and quite a bit of surrealism. So I know perfectly well what I'm rejecting. I take it that you're an athiest and so aren't too keen on seeing the sacred scripture of athiesm subjected to critical attack. The scientific method works well for science, it has yet to prove its worth in ethics. And I very much doubt that it can. Nietzsche is something of a culture-hero for athiests. How do you square that with his assertion in The Will to Power, "that the vast majority of men have no right to life". Nietzsche was a genocidal maniac and his ... Dec 12, 2021 at 10:02
  • @J D: ... despite all his massed ranks of apologists is the Nazi philosopher par excellance. He did after all say "there are even unfit peoples" and advocated their extermination: "the weak and the failures shall perish: first principle of our love of man. And they should be given every possible assistance." Like gas-chambers and concebtration camps. After all the holocausts of the 20th C, is there any wonder why I would want to stand in the next room to N? But of course it should not have taken the history of the 20C to see this ... Dec 12, 2021 at 10:08
  • @J.D.: ...It can be seen from what he had to say, before what he said bore fruit. Dec 12, 2021 at 10:08
  • I am what one might call a fallibilistic atheist, sure. I haven't really explored the Continent. Nietzche is the most famous of the nihilists, but the list of philosophers post-Kant that see rationalism culminating in the non-existence of God, is perhaps the entire foundation of modern European philosophy... there's a reason Descartes was attacked by his fellow theists... but you seem to be confused...
    – J D
    Dec 12, 2021 at 16:38

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