In absurdist philosophy, the Absurd arises out of the fundamental disharmony between the individual's search for meaning and the meaninglessness of the universe. As beings looking for meaning in a meaningless world, what are some philosophical arguments for accepting this absurdity? (Is this "acceptance" even a relevant or meaningful goal?)

  • 1
    Why suiciding and not just waiting for the problem to sort itself out? The world being absurd does not imply we should commit the most absurd actions we can think about...
    – Trylks
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 11:02

10 Answers 10


One accepts the absurd because it is banal, like the weather: arbitrary but every-day.

Take your title question. Why should you drink a cup of coffee, rather than killing yourself? Because, perhaps, you enjoy drinking coffee. But why should that matter? Well, it's a priority — and interestingly, because coffee is an acquired taste, it is a priority which you have probably cultivated over years. Why did you do that? Partly because it is a stimulant, and partly because of the cultural context your found yourself in, in which the cultivation of the taste of coffee is valued. And so on.

You are dancing in a nonsense game where everyone is constantly learning, and negotiating, the rules; except for some apparently fixed ones which we call the laws of physics, whose loopholes we are trying to exploit in a project which we call technology. Your whole life you have been immersed in this absurd world, so that you don't even notice it any more.

To recognise the absurd consciously is akin to being a healthy middle-class citizen of the western world, who pauses to realise their priviledge. It is to take notice of something which is so banal that it fades into the background, so that one forgets it entirely, and can only recall it with deliberate effort.

You embrace the absurd because it's what you're going to do anyway, and what everyone else does every day without paying too much attention to it. You embrace the absurd because it is normal. Consciously embracing the absurd just gives you more leeway into the way that you embrace it, so that your life may be absurd in a slightly more interesting way if you choose.

  • Wonderful answer, I'm delighted.
    – iphigenie
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 9:04
  • Nice answer, except for a point of terminology (which perhaps is a premise in the question so I should accept anyway): why are the terms absurd and nonsense game appropriate or clarifying descriptors for the complex context-based thinking that you describe?
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 17:16
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    @RexKerr: The context-based thinking is only reconciled to the context itself. I'm trying to illustrate the regress of context once you stop taking it for granted: it is the very taking of context for granted which masks the arbitrariness of our situation. I exaggerate, of course, because we have some amount of in-built meaning in life for the very same reason that we seek it: it's part of our evolution to prioritise pleasure over pain, to try to thrive rather than embracing oblivion; and at the same time, if there is no pattern to life, we find it necessary to invent one (a "nonsense" game). Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 18:12
  • @NieldeBeaudrap - One final clarification: if one merely embraces the in-built meaning, is it still a nonsense game?
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 19:04
  • @RexKerr: The game has exactly as much meaning and legitimacy as we have invested into it ourselves. In and of itself, it is nonsense. This does not mean that it is not worth playing, but it is a fact of the game nonetheless. Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 19:48

That's a false trichotomy. One can also

(4) Recognize a non-universal source for meaning

(5) Disagree that we are sure things are meaningless

(6) Ignore philosophical arguments that assume that disharmony between what we want and believe is so desperately important that we should kill ourselves or leap into the arms of hypothetical superbeings to save us.

In practice, I see a lot of these things (among most people, a lot of 6; among naturalist philosophers, a lot of 4).

  • I'm sure I see much more 5 than 6 in the general population, particularly if you add "ignore philosophical arguments that conclude with meaninglessness". You might add 5.5: Give intellectual assent when presented with an argument that everything is meaningless, but nevertheless continue on a daily basis to believe or assume that it is meaningful.
    – AndrewC
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 6:00

Does not existentialism fit the third criteria? To "Accept the Absurd" is to accept the notion that humanity is incapable of determining whether or not there is greater meaning to life. Another prime example of this notion is apatheism - the idea that we are incapable of determining whether or not a higher power exists, and therefore that the pursuit of theological ideas is likely irrelevant and meaningless with regards to the way in which one chooses to exist (though the pursuit of meaning may have value in and of itself).

In essence, "accepting the absurd" boils down to finding reason to live other than some greater ephemeral destiny or purpose, or alternately simply living despite understanding that there is no clear reason to live, and likely that there never will be.


I do this by creating a false meaning structure based on Russell and Harris, which goes like so:

  1. Live a life inspired by love and guided by knowledge
  2. Work to increase the happiness and reduce the suffering of conscious creatures

The fact that there is no ULTIMATE meaning doesn't matter on this view. We are human, and we can experience love, happiness, camaraderie, joy, pleasure, fascination, etc.

These are real enough, and enjoyable enough, to live for, and to try to see that others experience as well.

The key for my brand of absurdism is that we don't ever lose site of the fact that this scaffolding we've created is ultimately meaningless, but we simultaneously know that this doesn't matter because it's useful and positive.


I don't think humans can truly accept the absurd. I think this for a very simple reason: 'the absurd' is a useless and disadvantageous concept to develop through evolutionary psychology. If we accepted it, then it would destroy our sense of meaning assuming we are atheistic. Why would the capacity to be wholly affected by this thought be advantageous evolutionarily given that meaning is an essential part of living? This would be like programming a computer to shut down after booting.

So, in strict sense, we can't accept the absurd: It doesn't make sense for our brains to be capable of doing so as it is an evolutionary disadvantage.

I think that our existence in spite of the absurd in the manner Niel described is not so much acceptance but partial ignorance. The absurd exists, in our brains, as an idea which is wholly logical and partially inactualizable---something which we can't really perceive. We live in a partial perception of the idea; we know of it as an idea, like the idea of roundness, but we can't feel its logical impact. i.e., if it is true that the Absurd exists and I believe the aforesaid statement, then I, logically, should feel that my life is meaningless and kill myself; however, I cannot wholly believe that statement because I can never by my will believe in the statement, "It is logical to kill myself."

I find that this issue of partial perception is also found in nihilism. You can't truly be a nihilist---you may acknowledge that there is no objective meaning and no subjective meaning, but your actions will, 99.999%, be in contrary to that fact by breathing to say, "I am a nihilist." Your brain is simply not capable of thinking that there is no meaning to life and acting logically as a result of that thought.


I should have thought that absurdism, as existentialism with a healthy dose of nihilism about knowledge and moral concepts, tends to favour the coffee if the being is not suffering and existence is not some kind of duty or aspiration. It depends upon whether the nihilistic element extends to absurdism about death - which position I take it that Camus would have endorsed. That said, non-absurdist Kierkegaard would have emphasised the second option you offer and expressed a need to preserve existence - while whinging at what he believed was a real god quite a lot. So option 2 is not really absurdist - arguably. The rest of your question looks like a tip of the hat to game theory. As a philosopher of information (a largely analytic discipline with some possibly realistic aspirations to crossing the continental-analytic divide) I have some views on this. It starts with the idea of social determinism - and perhaps whether you care what other think and say about you, or not.

Moreover, arguably it is hard to see how a real god of an absurd universe and existence could be guaranteed to be any less absurd than their creation even if they otherwise transcended it.


The meaningless of the universe seems to be a European invention and the absurd a temporary solution. Perhaps its the becoming of primitive civilisations and the de-becoming of late ones too. I say primitive because of the figure of the Trickster which embodies the arbitrariness and strangeness of the world.

One cannot redeem meaningless by inventing a God or a pantheon of gods. God and gods don't work that way. A society needs to dream of God, be haunted by it and inspired.

In the kingdom of the absurd everyones an absurdist - generally with a small a. Its a common-place, a fashion and an aesthetic. Its a game when one can be bothered enough to play. Everyone becomes an actor and a player. Weightless though gravity still acts. Unbearable - kind of; but bearable still.

Its a reaction to a loss of Being. But to become the reaction is to only live that loss more fully. It camourflages those who lack all conviction. It ruins those who hold them. The absurdist has no soul. He sings no songs. He is cousain to mere anarchy when centres no longer hold. Civilisations have not been built on the absurd. Poetry was not born out of absurdity. Adversity is not overcome by absurdity. Absurdity rusts the chisel and parts the craftsman from his craft. Banality is absurditys child out of wedlock.

One does not search for meaning, one inherits it; like one inherits language. Its a gift from our immeasurable & imponderable past selves. A gift from Spiritus Mundi.


I had to answer, just because this is a beautifully fun question to play with.

My suspicion is that when confronting the absurd, most stop without going all the way to the bottom. Because, the simple fact that the universe is devoid of meaning or any possible weight or significance we can apply to it is not usually interpreted in a factual manner. That the universe and our lives are empty of meaning and weight, and our existence is absurd and pointless is in fact not factual. It is an interpretation of moving particles plastered onto that which defies interpretation.

If they are absurd [our lives], then once we place weight on that fact (interpretation) we are blindingly ignoring a glaring paradox. While a Nihilistic attitude towards the universe is one way to respond to this particular insight, it is hardly the only attitude available. In fact taking up any attitude at all towards the so-called absurdity before us is to attempt to force the absurdity into some logical system - most often in an attempt to avoid the fear of the crushing existential angst we might face upon looking directly into the abyss.

And so - who of us has the courage to really look?

Like Vasduveda at the end of Siddhartha, speaking to his pupil:

"You've heard it [the river] laugh," he said. "But you haven't heard everything. Let's listen, you'll hear more." [1]

And one answer to what Siddhartha heard is "perfection".

Beyond the agony of everyday existence; the irritation of job interviews; stubbing your toe; feeling embarrassed; running late; cleaning up after your children; etc. there is the thing itself. Nothing about life agrees to respond to your questions with clear, concise answers; it only promises to present itself, and we get to see. And if we look - not in spite of the absurd - but only because of the absurd, what reveals itself is magic and wonder; the dance of life; perfect and whole - lacking nothing.

If I were speaking with precise philosophical rigor, this answer might fall short, but while words are that which constructs the way we see the world - they will also only take you so far:

Wittgenstein: My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it. [2]


"Work to increase the happiness and reduce the suffering of conscious creatures"

Pain and suffering are pretty much shat out on all living things by life... It would make logical sense that the ultimate goal should be achieving a world where reducing the suffering of conscious creatures is prioritized.

Ironic, that people that have the capability to question their own worth are the ones killing themselves.. although in saying that I don't think anyone should want to die(because it's a sad and long life to live).


Woody Allen once said "I don't know the question, but sex is definitely the answer"

So, I don't know the answer but here is what Woody once had to say about it:

Allen: That's quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn't it?
Woman: Yes, it is.
Allen: What does it say to you?
Woman: It restates the negativeness of the universe. The hideous lonely emptiness of existence. Nothingness. The predicament of man forced to live in a barren, godless eternity like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void with nothing but waste, horror, and degradation, forming a useless, bleak straitjacket in a black, absurd cosmos.
Allen: What are you doing Saturday night?
Woman: Committing suicide.
Allen: What about Friday night?

Here is the scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbnueb2OI4o

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