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camus.jpg (1071 bytes)Philosophy 102: Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry
Camus, "Man Provides Life's Meaning"

1. What is the one truly serious philosophical problem? Why is this so.
2. When does one choose death?
3. What is Absurdity? When does the feeling of it arise?
4. Explain: "The revolt of the flesh is the absurd."
5. When does man's fate assume its meaning?
6. What is the connection between comparison and absurdity?
7. Explain: "Living is keeping the Absurd alive."
8. What restores majesty to life?

Recommended Reading

Introduction: Camus represents the philosophy of existentialism.
Two important aspects, which can only be suggested here, are focused in the course, Philosophy 315: Existentialism.
(1) In any situation, no matter how confining, you have a choice. To believe you do not, is to choose not to choose.
(a) Even when you are dying, you can choose how you die: in a panic or in acceptance, without forgiving or with forgiving, as an example for others or by sole concern for yourself.
(b) If what Socrates says about tending your soul is understood, then even though you might be physically harmed by a decision, your soul can still be centered by that decision. There are no "have to's" in life.
(2) This notion of choice implies that we must accept the consequences of our choices, even when they are undeserved since consequences cannot be foreseen. Yet, when we are self-directed and our soul is clear, the existentialist recognizes the anguish of taking responsibility for fortuitous consequences.


1. What is the one truly serious philosophical problem? Why is this so.
(a) If we answer this question by what people do, rather than what they say, then the most important question is the meaning of life.
(b) (Saying it is a question of suicide, as Camus does, is putting the question in terms on one alternative.)
(1) Many people will give up their most cherished beliefs in order to go on living: e.g., Galileo, Peter the Apostle, a wife dedicated to a marriage, which is oppressive to her.
(2) Many people kill themselves because they judge it not worth the bother: e.g., a person over sixty-five whose spouse has just died; a teenager; a person who cannot live up to someone else's expectations.
(3) Others risk their own death for ideas which give them a reason to live: e.g., Socrates, a mountain-climber, a soldier, but more importantly, you, since essentially that is what your life becomes.


2. When does one choose death?
(a) When experience undermines you and you find yourself in an unfamiliar world, you are faced with "the Absurd."
(1) Consider the person who identifies worth or self with another person, a role, a profession, or a way of life. If the identification of self is broken, i.e., divorce, death, physical injury, being fired, or loss of interest, the meaning for self is lost.
(2) Tolstoy wrote his essay: "...I felt that what I was standing on had given way, that I had no foundation to stand on, that that which I lived by no longer existed, and that I had nothing to live by..." Tolstoy was undermined.
(b) One chooses death when life becomes too much: life is seen as "unfair" or arbitrary. There are too many demands, and you cannot count on anybody.
(c) In this state, some persons begin a "mechanical life'" and do not understand life. As Edna St. Vincet Millay wrote, "Life must go on, I forget just why." Tolstoy's arrest of life was seen in terms of the questions, "Why? Well, and then?"


3. What is Absurdity? When does the feeling of it arise?
(a) Absurdity arises from the separation between you and the world. You are more than what you do. You are more than the opportunities provided by your environment. The range of choices presented in the world present no real choice, and there is no opportunity to be.
(b) Since we could never "be all that we could be," or realize our self in the world, we elude. Eluding is seeking diversions so that we will not have to face the fact of death, or for that matter, the possibility of authenticity.
(c) Recall Tolstoy's recounting of "The Well of Life" from the Mahabharata for insight into this state.
(d) If we pause to think about the situation, we are not "at home" in the world. We constantly, but ineffectually, adjust to not only nature but also to other person's expectations.
(e) Specifically, the impersonal nature of the universe clashes with the personality of human endeavors.
(1) This realization results in an "absence of hope." Our continual rejections from what we think should be, soon prevent our "bouncing back."
(2) In Robert Penn Warren's phrase, we experience "...time's slow contraction of the most hopeful heart."
(3) Our eluding results in living as if we are unaware of our "beingness toward death."


4. Explain: "The revolt of the flesh is the absurd."
(a) As we become aware of "the cruel mathematics which command our condition," we realize we have only a limited time to live.
(b) In an essay in Fraser's Voices of Time, a psychologist notes that for a 20 year old person, time appears to pass 4 times faster that when 5 years old, and for a 50 years old person, time passes 5 times faster than that.
(1) Doesn't Grandmother say, "It seems like yesterday you were this tall."
(2) If we plot this curve on graph paper, the psychological midpoint of the time of a person's life with an average life expectancy is between 23 and 25 years!
(c) As the seconds pass, the flesh "revolts." We only have a limited time left, and we have wasted so much. Time can never be recovered. In a word, " No code of ethics and no effort is justifiable in the face of the cruel mathematics which command our attention."
(d) Class exercise: Assume you live a normal life span. Calculate the number of seconds in your life. (Only around 2 billion seconds?) Now subtract your age in seconds from that figure. This subtraction could give you an idea of what the "revolt of the flesh" is.


5. When does man's fate assume its meaning?
(a) Our fate can begin to have meaning when we "let go" of the ways of eluding and live "in the face of the Absurd." The relationship between our consciousness (soul) and the external world (objective reality) is irrational and unfathomable.
(b) The meaning of life of life cannot be found in the world around us--the impersonal thwarts human purpose.
daisy.gif (2292 bytes)(c) Consider the daisy theory of a  human being. When asked who we are, we respond with our name, where we were born, what jobs we do, and so forth. Yet we are not those things. That is, we would still be who we are if our names were different, our job was different, and so on.
(d) If we identify our meaning with the roles which bind our lives, we life in self-deception.


6. What is the connection between comparison and absurdity?
(a) We cannot be represented in the world. The world demands objectivity and precision which is not a characteristic of consciousness.
(1) Consider that Lander University has no "undecided" majors, only "undeclared majors." Indecision is not a property in the world.
(2) Sartre's example of the young man who puts his hand on his date's hand. She, who does not really know him yet, must either leave her hand there or remove it. Either choice reveals something not part of her consciousness.
(b) Oftimes, we see a denseness or strangeness in the world, i.e., when we are ill.
(c) Consider your reaction when first you....
heard your voice on a tape recorder...
saw your picture in a high school annual...
overheard a conversation about you between two strangers...
(d) We cannot be reduced to physical terms.  These reconstructions are not what we are--so, in response to (c) above, "That doesn't sound like me," " That doesn't look like me," and "Let me tell you what really happened."


7. Explain: "Living is keeping the Absurd alive."
(a) It should be obvious that we cannot control nature.
(b) If we seek to lose ourselves in the world, we are eluding. We are seeking a diversion from knowing ourselves or tending our own soul.
(c) Since the ego is completely different from the world, there are no absolutes to live up to. No one can really say, "You did a good job, kid." There is nothing objective to measure up to. Hence, you make the situation what it is by what you choose to make of it.
(d) Only by facing the absurd, can we act authentically; otherwise, we elude and are controlled by other people and other situations, as reflected in this popular quotation:

"I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I have come to believe you think I am." This inauthenticity is the psychologist's notion of social reality.

(e) Hence, at a minimum, we avoid wishful thinking and taking a convenient attitude (e.g., misfortune, accident, serious illness, death, always happens to the other guy.)
(f) You can never count on the consequences of your actions, yet you can always count on the motive of the action--seize awareness of what you do.


8. What restores majesty to life?
(a) The nobility of revolting against the Absurd is acting in the face of meaningless.
(b) Cf.., Camus' Myth of Sisyphus: I impose meaning on what I do. No one else can impose meaning for me.
(c) From an objective view, all human activities, no matter how small or how big, are equal in how they are done. The "how" represents the meaning we impose on what we do.
(d) When I, alone, impose meaning on what I do, I live authentically.

Recommended reading:
Albert Camus, "The Myth of Sisyphus" in Walter Kaufman, ed., Existentialism From Dostoevsky to Sartre, New York: Meridian, 1988.
Jean Paul Sartre, "The Wall" in Walter Kaufman, ed. Existentialism From Dostoevsky to Sartre, New York: Meridian, 1988.


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