Why is "suicide" the fundamental problem of philosophy, for Camus? Surely the fundamental problem of philosophy is more traditionally how to live, not how to die. Even if we allow the centrality of death in any mature philosophy, the art of dying, as Nietzsche suggests in places, always seems a lot more arbitrary than life. Suicide may be uniquely human, at least universal among humans, not something waiting to be discovered or invented, only thought about, but as far as I know Camus was not even suffering much beyond anguish at his failures, so why the centrality of it? Is this thought that happy people have missed something important and are actually living inauthentically? There may well be some truth to that, but then to deny the same fact of sad, even suicidal, people seems wrong. I actually agree that tackling the issues that suicidal thinking brings can make you stronger, but then I don't think that it's the realisation "I ought not die" that affirms life, but its precedents.

I've been suicidal, don't worry, not now, for a variety of reasons. I suppose the sanest was that, when it's over I mean nothing at all, and I want to mean nothing at all, if only to hurry it up, as if returning to who I really am. But it must be a mistake to say "this is my true self", the self that seriously contemplates suicide.

Anyone saying it has nothing do with death and is just a means to live better may end up trying to force trivially wrong metaphysics on people (but there's no "ultimate" reason to go buy food) to escape the fact that suicide is not just a matter of 'life'.

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    See Camus: Suicide as a Response to Absurdity: “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” (MS, 3). Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 10:48
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    Camus sees this question of suicide as a natural response to an underlying reality, namely, that life is absurd. It is absurd to continually seek meaning in life when there is none; and it is absurd to hope for some form of continued existence after death, which results in our extinction. But Camus also thinks it absurd to try to know, understand, or explain the world, since he regards the attempt to gain rational knowledge as futile. Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 10:48
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA oh right "hope".
    – user63148
    Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 10:53
  • Your 'true self' is the person you are at any given moment. Acting in an abnormal way does not change the fact that it is you acting. Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 5:07
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    I was referring to your OP: "But it must be a mistake to say "this is my true self" ". If a person is feeling negative emotions, then at that moment, their true self is a person experiencing those emotions - regardless of whether or not these emotions are unusual - and they should be acknowledged as such, if only so that appropriate interventions are properly considered. Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 0:13

3 Answers 3


It's complicated. Albert Camus (🥀💀) is only referring to what we/he think/s is a necessary link between Logos (reason) and Eros (life).

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    hahah. thanks for the reply... wait for the conversion eh
    – user63148
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 3:42
  • Camus, in my universe, is a bona fide genius but so are other thinkers/philosophers.
    – Hudjefa
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 2:35

I presume you are referring to The Myth of Sisyphus. I think you misunderstood what Camus means by "There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide" (admittedly, Camus is of the "literary" kind of philosopher, who does not lay down their case with much rigour).

The Myth of Sisyphus is not about how to die, but about why staying alive in a world that is actually "absurd", without ultimate goal or meaning. The resulting worldview is labelled as "absurdism".

Camus was not only an atheist who did not believe in an afterlife, but also marked by the beginnings of modern astrophysics in the early XXth century, that made clear that nor the Earth, nor the Sun, nor the universe was eternal. This was the realization that whatever we build to survive us, although it might perdure for generations, is doomed to disappear and will make no difference at the cosmic level. Everything we do is therefore meaningless in the long run, or "absurd".

In this context, "why not commit suicide?", or "why live?", becomes a fundamental question, and is closely related to "how to live?". The idea that nothing we do matters in the long run suggests that all that matters is the here and now.

In the myth, Sisyphus rolls a stone endlessly and with no hope to ever see his task accomplished, just like we, on our doomed planet, struggle aimlessly. Camus concludes "we ought to imagine Sisyphus is happy", I.e. we ought to find a struggle we enjoy, because it is the best we can hope for.

  • I agree with the conclusion, but when I read this stuff years ago, it seemed to take a long, tough road to get there. If as a young person, you see older people who are sanguine, just assume it works out. Skip all the agonizing. (I'm kind of an older person)
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 0:52
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    @ScottRowe I totally agree, it's a tough read that I couldn't help but feel it could have been condensed in a small pamphlet, although a fundamental, inspiring one. Yet Nietzsche is kind of the same.
    – armand
    Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 1:46
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    I do not have to believe in eternal meaningfulness to lie to myself about the status of meaning. I'm sorry, but I want to explicitly argue against the claim that absurdism is the idea that in time everything will be meaningless. Isn't absurdism the claim that in important ways it already is, that the Gods have set us up to labour over things that only have some fictional meaning, not just incomplete from the "view from everywhere" (
    – user63148
    Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 20:08
  • @crazed, I mean, you can disagree with Camus all you want. The problem is, he is the founder of absurdism and he gets to define what it is, so, by definition, you lose... Camus didn't believe in God nor gods, defining absurdist as "the gods set us to..." is, well, absurd. This new claim also has nothing to do with your first claim that the Myth of Sisyphus is about "how to die", so I'm a at a bit of a loss to see were you're at and answer your criticism in any meaningful way.
    – armand
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 1:46
  • I don't think I am disagreeing with Camus @armand so would prefer you said "you can disagree with me", and will repeat myself: 'suicide' means when to die means how to die
    – user63148
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 1:49

Suicide is the wager that we can get somewhere, and it has the price of our life.

I've thought of another way of putting it

It is the fundamental question of philosophy because we must not attempt to die "resolved", because we cannot, any serious attempt to resolve our life, in suicide or religion or anything, is deceit like 'becoming God'.

I am interested in... plain suicide. I merely wish to purge it of its emotional content and to know its logic and its integrity. Any other position implies for the absurd mind deceit...

The fact of this non-resolution is not that we are going to nowhere fast, but that we are getting nowhere. Even from this particular "view", my own, it is all nothing, and already so. Does that hurt? If so, at least in this respect, I agree that

What is useless is denial or avoidance of pain; we need, as Camus advised in The Plague, to root ourselves in our distress. (Carmichael 1988: 9)

Put another way, a serious recognition of mortality is necessary but not sufficient for absurdism. He's not asking about suicide to create some performative or simulated consciousness of our mortality. He is asking about suicide because of what suicide, not just death, tells us about life: all we have is our defiance!

happiness includes living intensely and sensuously in the present coupled with Sisyphus’s tragic, lucid, and defiant consciousness, his sense of limits, his bitterness, his determination to keep on, and his refusal of any form of consolation.

Obviously, Camus’s sense of happiness is not a conventional one but Sagi argues it may place him closer to Aristotle than to any other thinker insofar as he is championing the full realization of human capacities (Sagi 2002, 79–80)

Both yea-saying and nay-saying

"the absurd man says yes and his effort henceforth will be unceasing," this is not the yea-saying of Nietzsche's ass in Thus Spake Zarathustra... everything is permitted does not mean nothing is forbidden

  • etc. etc.. my main point against Armand is in my penultimate paragraph. My answer is in the title.
    – user63148
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 2:55

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