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r/AskPhilosophy construed the following quotation from Le Mythe de Sysyphe: Chapitre 1, which Alan Watts joked about. Emboldenings are mine.

Il n'y a qu'un problème philosophique vraiment sérieux : c'est le suicide. Juger que la vie vaut ou ne vaut pas la peine d'être vécue, c'est répondre à la question fondamentale de la philosophie. Le reste, si le monde a trois dimensions, si l'esprit a neuf ou douze catégories, vient ensuite. Ce sont des jeux ; il faut d'abord répondre. Et s'il est vrai, comme le veut Nietzsche, qu'un philosophe, pour être estimable, doive prêcher d'exemple, on saisit l'importance de cette réponse puisqu'elle va précéder le geste définitif. Ce sont là des évidences sensibles au cœur, mais qu'il faut approfondir pour les rendre claires à l'esprit.

Translation by Hélène Brown:

There is only one truly serious philosophical problem: suicide. To judge whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. The rest—whether the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve cate- gories—comes afterwards. These are games; one must answer first. And, if it is true, as Nietzsche claims, that a philosopher should preach by example in order to command respect, one begins to un- derstand the importance of that reply, for it will precede the defini- tive act. These are truths the heart can feel, yet they must be exam- ined in depth to become clear to the mind.

Can someone elaborate Conifold's comment? Which philosophers disagree with this quotation above? Why isn't suicide a "vraiment sérieux" (really serious) "problème philosophique" (philosophical problem), let alone "la question fondamentale de la philosophie" (the fundamental problem of philosophy)? What did Camus muff?

Because few philosophers share Camus' opinion. To them, suicide is serious as a social and psychological problem, but not as a philosophical one. People who commit suicide almost never do it for philosophical reasons, it is typically an emotional act, perhaps fueled by social circumstances, so its scientific study is more productive. Philosophically, it comes up mostly due to ethical aspects.

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  • Ok, my French is only suitable for swearing, so I pushed the translate button and to me the primary sentence is: "To judge that life is or is not worth living ..." Back then they were grappling with a sense that life was meaningless. This is an emergency, so of course it eclipsed all other questions. One could choose not to have children, but not to not have been born, so the only way to change one's mind is the title action. It was not considered a 'problem' in itself, so reading it that way is getting it very wrong, a kind of use-mention error. Focus on the meaning aspect.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 23:34
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    It's Google Translate
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 0:23
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    Camus states that to him philosophy is about finding the meaning of life and as such, also suicide (because if life is meaningless why not end it now?). As such he is not wrong, as he can define his terms the way he sees fit, but others might have other definitions. There are philosophers who consider their practice to be about only the formalization, critique and organization of concepts, and see "the meaning of life" as one of those pesky questions that human reason can't dismiss but can't answer Kant was speaking about.
    – armand
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 7:37
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    Hehe, my answer was deleted and cut, and published as a comment on my behalf. Okey i ll edit full version: "Dear CriglCragl, It was Camus's inner monologue, don't take it personally and share with self. You can't drink "Cumus's" cap of coffee, you can only follow his preach, so, all you think about it definitely meaningless, but examined. Don't try to live Sisyphus's or Camus's life. "I do it by self" - that is Camus said. "Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?" Both acts are equally meaningless. But to continue play someone needed a courage("heart, innermost feelings; temper"). Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 10:59
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    But to be someone is not same to cosplay someone. So don't share Camus's thoughts, but make separate self inner monologue, and Camus inner monologue. Make them separate and break the Camus's monologue in self mind. And answer the question. Camus can't be wrong, wrong way can be if it is sharing other's inner monologues with self one. Don't have to assign someone's monologue or share it. Don't have to. It is impossible to steal someone's inner monologue, as to drink someone's imagine cap of coffee. If you create and idol, you ll blame the idol for your mistakes. Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 11:01

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I'm particularly intrigued by the juxataposition of Socrates with Camus:

"The unexamined life is not worth living." ~ Socrates.

"The examined life is not worth living." ~ Camus (would've said)

Camus' meaning of life is what has been dubbed as cosmic meaning, a higher purpose as some like to call it, such as can only be conferred upon one by, sensu amplissimo, god(s). However grand such a meaning may be, it's to surrender one's autonomy and self-determination, the power to control one's own destiny. Thus, on this view, meaningless = freedom. It makes zero sense to suicide because one is free (one's life is "meaningless").

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    You imply that is a direct Camus quote. It's not. It's not what he said, or meant. Please amend your answer. You also seem not to have read Camus. He absolutely did not dismiss suicide, he saw it as something constantly to be grappled with. "Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee? But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself."
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 0:22
  • @CriglCragl, please reread my post. Camus is of the view that because life is meaningless one is quite naturally driven to suicide. However meaning to Camus is some kinda grand meaning bestowed by god(s) [read master(s), a *slave mentality].
    – Hudjefa
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 0:29
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    That isn't Camus' point though. It is yours.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 0:37
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    This is a very different reading of the Myth of Sisyphus than I remember.
    – J D
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 6:37
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    i would say that should read the examined life appears not to be worth living (but is)
    – user64448
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 7:02
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I don't think Camus was focusing on suicide, or commenting on the ethics of suicide at all as much as on the possible meaninglessness of existence. He was pointing out that existence may or may not be meaningless to oneself, and if it is meaningless, and you follow through, then exiting this meaningless situation is a possibility.

He clearly says as much: the fundamental question is for one to decide whether life has a meaning or not, and that's what he is interested in. Not really if one should commit suicide or not, if that's ethical or not, etc etc. Suicide comes as a consequence once you decide whether life has a meaning or not, and if you assume that absence of meaning necessarily leads to suicide (and as he says, if you believe like Nietzsche that a philosopher should lead by example).

I also think that Camus will eventually find an existentialist way to avoid the path of meaningless that would lead to suicide. Camus is not advocating that life is meaningless hence one should commit suicide.

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  • Right, it is just a further development of the statement attributed to Socrates. Examination does not of itself make life meaningful, we have to go beyond that, regardless what is found. Living makes life meaningful.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 11:54
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    @ScottRowe I think the context around Camus is pretty disconnected from Socrates. I don't think Camus is thinking about the examined life, as much as radical, existential meaninglessness, then acting to define one's life.
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 18:03
  • Fair enough. I would propose a kind of Pascal's Wager to say: you can't be sure life is 'meaningless', so don't take your own life, because the cost of being wrong is infinite.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 18:50
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The experience of the absurd, from which we experience the futility of life (fully enough to make suicide a fundamental question, despite the evils of death), has an intellectual context of seeking meaning when there is none.

If we're unaware we seek meaning, we do not realise it cannot be found, not enough for suicide due to the hopelessness of that to be a fundamental question. Why bother if we already agree life is meaningless?

What is the Camusean alternative to suicide or hope? The answer is to live without escape... maintaining the [absurd] tension intrinsic to human life [of seeking meaning when there is none]... [a life] characterized by lucidity and by acute consciousness of... mortality and... [life's] limits.

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  • you could draw a graph... want 'meaning' have 'meaningless' reject 'hope' which means 'futile' but shouldn't 'suicide' and should 'rebel' LOOP
    – user64448
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 7:32
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    I like your additional quote. People seem to get stuck and not follow the loop around enough times to see how to get free of it.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 11:51
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Camus was not even wrong about what you are asking, because the focus of what he was saying was to get at the apparent meaninglessness of existence. You can find an answer from Milarepa about 800 years ago:

All worldly pursuits have but one unavoidable and inevitable end, which is sorrow; acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings in destruction; meetings in separation; births in death. Knowing this, one should, from the very first, renounce acquisitions and storing-up, and building, and meeting; and, following the guidance of an eminent Guru, set about to know the real truths, which have no birth or death.

Many people have found this approach to address their concerns, although it takes some commitment. But, if you were wondering if existence is worthwhile, you have all the time in the world.

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    Excellent quote, all systems organize and disperse. But I don't see the relationship between this mechanism and suicide.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 4:01
  • @RodolfoAP well, there is the word 'death' sitting there, but no: as I said, suicide is not relevant, meaninglessness is. Camus wrote a great clickbait statement, but we need to read past the headline for the full story.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 4:06
  • So, this answer is: systems organize and disperse. Life is meaningless. If you want to know why suicide has a relation with that, you have to buy the full product (read past the headline, "You have all the time in the world"). That's not an answer at all. You can write an explicit argument. If done well, normally you need one sentence. Can you, please? Thanks.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 4:23
  • @RodolfoAP You only get the benefit of living if you are around to cash in at the end, so stay, explore, enjoy. Put up with the inevitable problems and pain, and be a benefit to others, who are in many ways just like you. "In Lak'ech" (I am another yourself)
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 11:58
  • Nice self-motivating memes, but they have no relationship with suicide being the fundamental problem in philosophy, and with suicide being such thing because systems disperse. You see? One sentence is enough.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 14:13

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