I was reading about Existentialism in Wikipedia and in The Absurd section there are two sentences that seem conflicting to me. First we have:

The notion of the absurd contains the idea that there is no meaning in the world beyond what meaning we give it.

So my take away is that an Absurdist tries to create an artificial meaning. At the end of this section we have this sentence:

The ultimate hero of absurdism lives without meaning and faces suicide without succumbing to it.

And my take away was that one should not seek any kind of meaning. In Wikipedia entry of Absurdism we have:

By recognizing no religious or other moral constraints, and by rebelling against the Absurd (through meaning-making)

which states that an Absurdist should try to create meaning. So which one is it? Should an Absurdist seek some kind of meaning (by creating it) or should live without any kind of meaning?

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    It is both. There is no meaning (available in the world), and the ultimate hero lives without it, while not succumbing to suicide and rebelling against this lack by making their own meaning and giving it to the world:"The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy", Camus. Or, in the words of one of existentialism's spiritual forefathers, Nietzsche:"We only have art so as not to die before the truth”.
    – Conifold
    Dec 7, 2021 at 3:37
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    You're mindful and careful enough to spot this seemingly absurd logical contradiction. However, if you think of the two meanings with different senses, then there's no contradiction at all. The first meaning can be interpreted as meaning with emotional attachment which is absurd and needs to be rejected per absurdism. The latter meaning-making is self-created and pursued meaning but without any attachment at this final stage of absurdism... Dec 7, 2021 at 4:21
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    to build up on double knot's comment: people make their own meaning without being aware of it: like a soldier will fight for his country or his tribe without realizing it's going to disappear one day, making this fight meaningless in the absolute. But someone who has embraced absurdism is aware and can't fall for this trap anymore. One can imagine an absurdist soldier, finding meaning for themselves in the fellowship of other soldiers, or fighting for their own wellbeing, but not for some imaginary "eternal" entity like the motherland or abstract concept like "liberty".
    – armand
    Dec 7, 2021 at 6:35
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    @DoubleKnot: Emotional attachment can't be the issue. Camus says what he means: it is believing that meaning is found, that it exists outside of us to be discovered, that he says is the problem. With an altogether humbler attitude to meaning we can aim simply for 'enough to fill a man's heart.
    – CriglCragl
    Dec 8, 2021 at 15:23
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    "The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world." - C. In Myth of Sisyphus. The human habit is to experience meaning, & think we have discovered it. The absurdist seeks to continue to recognise that meaning is contextual, contingent, & fundamentally personal.
    – CriglCragl
    Dec 8, 2021 at 19:15

1 Answer 1


Imagine a world where you're born to die. Or where the smartest people really don't have smarter things to say. Imagine the great religions are full of priests who are largely full of imperfect people who don't really commune with their gods and civil authorities that don't really have some moral authority to conduct their business. If you walk down the city street and see little more than great apes pretending they're something more than primates, and past graveyards of people who to the last grave have the bones of people interred who wanted nothing more than to be loved and aspired to the impossible and realized that every last one of them will be forgotten in a generation. And forget all of the banners and slogans. God will love you? A lie. You have freedom? A deception. You were put on this earth for a reason? A delusion. You are starting to look at the abyss of nihilism, one that Camus witnessed throughout his adult life, particularly surviving a serious disease as a youth, and as a student in colonial North Africa and a witness and member of resistance to the Nazi invasion of France.

You will die. Your loved ones will die. And while alive, you will exist alongside the specter of death, addiction, disease, and foolishness from the cradle to the grave. And you as the individual, are held in indifference or scorn by society, an outsider. History is replete with one group of people abusing another, and in-group-out-group behavior is petty and universal. People are petty and abuse each other daily. And even if you are "special" enough to have done great things or accumulate great wealth, eventually you will make big mistakes or fail by your own standards. You are condemned to Ozymandias' fate.

These are the themes of his works such as The Stranger, The Plague, The Fall, and The Rebel. After you have an existential crisis, what are you to do when confronted by such a macabre and absurd situation about life? One in which if you're smart, you recognize how thin, false, and pretentious the veneer of civilization really is? (And all of which are true, by the way.)

You rebel, work hard to make your own meaning, and be happy. That's the short version of the answer by Camus in his Myth of Sisyphys. You find small pleasures. You indulge in sensual, creative expression. You remind yourself that at least to you, you small daughter IS important and that even if you may have to watch her die, you DO have time to spend with her. You reject immoral groupthink and rail against institutional imperative. You might confront "authorities" in their hypocrisy, or you might want want to hide in a crowd sitting in a church understanding the foolishness of the congregation in believing the words of a man in a funny costume who gets a free house to help people get to an imaginary afterlife. But whatever your choices, they're your choices.

And what of the contradiction that you can build meaning when no "real" meaning exists? You embrace paraconsistent logic and snicker at those who think the Law of the Excluded Middle is anything more than an artifice of the mind:

A paraconsistent logic is an attempt at a logical system to deal with contradictions in a discriminating way. Alternatively, paraconsistent logic is the subfield of logic that is concerned with studying and developing "inconsistency-tolerant" systems of logic which reject the principle of explosion.

You advocate dialetheism:

Dialetheism (from Greek δι- di- 'twice' and ἀλήθεια alḗtheia 'truth') is the view that there are statements which are both true and false. More precisely, it is the belief that there can be a true statement whose negation is also true. Such statements are called "true contradictions", dialetheia, or nondualisms.

You giggle at those who refuse to accept the absurd, and the contradictory, and remember the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

And ultimately, when the world full of intellectual miscreants and lumbering dolts push you, you reread Voltaire's The Good Brahmin, raise your thumb (or middle finger, or flick your fingers from beneath your chin), and pushback.

(Yes, an absurdist creates her own meaning, ex nihilo.)

  • Camus' mental disposition towards rebel and to (pointless) hard work, what produce meaning in a form of, I might say, "sparks" or "friction heat", may be due to his fascination with Greek mythology and Classic tradition. He always tended to sight absurd "out there" - in the Universe (not in a soul). To him, absurd is both vicious and precious (Nature as represents a jolly feast of gods, but a man is excluded, no part for him). Having appreciated high The Stranger, Sartre nevertheless reproached Camus for not trying to locate the source of absurd at the interface of consciousness and the world
    – ttnphns
    Dec 8, 2021 at 4:33
  • @ttnphns I don't know that the labor he advocated was pointless; perhaps a direct appeal to creative and sensual labor is the deeply personal meaning that lies at the core of his philosophy. In a way, his writings are very antiphilosophical, and maybe that's because in a way, a philosophy like Sartre's is too close to organized religion.
    – J D
    Dec 8, 2021 at 7:46
  • I think there is a fundamental difference between a Marxist project to liberate the prolitariat and the existentialist project to bring existentialism to the masses, but there is a certain parallel. I would intuit that Camus's rejection of the label has to do with his refusal to be part of that organized movement because absurdism is fundamental. If it lies at the level of consciousness, then changing one's thinking, like Sartre advocates, allows one to overcome the problem. By placing absurdism outside objectifies it and makes it irrefutable.
    – J D
    Dec 8, 2021 at 7:53
  • But, on the other hand, Camus openly rejected and distanced from existentialist community only quite late, at the time of his Rebel when he'd already overcome absurdism. And this was the time by which Camus had completely split off Sartre and his company on the grounds of politics.
    – ttnphns
    Dec 8, 2021 at 8:09

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