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Sunday, 20 December 2009

Why Absurd Sisyphus?

The blogging name Absurd Sisyphus is a mixture of two philosophical ideas from the French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus. He was writing in the time around the second world war up until his death in a car crash, early January 1960. He was an avid football fan and (because of his dual status) played for Algeria in goal.

Camus' book 'The Stranger' or 'The outsider' is a novel that is written to explain his philosophical work 'The Myth of Sisyphus'. Camus suggests that the only serious philosophical question is suicide. He is not advocating suicide. He is suggesting that we must attempt to find meaning in a universe without one; his friend Sartre also suggested something similar but believed the universe to be something 'gratuitous'. Camus believed that the the human condition and the universe were not absurd in and of themselves but that when the two came together that they produced the absurd. Existence was absurd for Camus because we are aware of our suffering, death and ultimate lack of purpose in the universe. What does it matter if we live or die?

These ideas arise out of a movement known as nihilism. This is a denial of any metaphysical realm. Without the metaphysical (meta meaning 'above' or 'beyond') there can be no independent form of morality, no soul or spirit, no God and above all for Camus (and the other existentialists) no objective meaning to the world. Nihilism has its roots in the work of Nietzsche who famously declared that 'God is dead'.

'The myth of Sisyphus' is a work of non-fiction that explores ideas of the absurdity of life and what it means for the human being in a world without meaning. Camus uses a character from Greek mythology called Sisyphus to illustrate his philosophy. Sisyphus was punished by the gods and had to spend his days in hell pushing a boulder up hill every day for eternity only to have the mass of stone tumble back to the bottom of the hill at the end of each day. Sisyphus was cursed to repeat this ordeal over and over again. Yet Camus asks us to imagine Sisyphus happy because he had finally found some purpose in the cosmos that was his and his alone.

The message of the myth of Sisyphus must be that we are to seek out our own purpose and meaning in the universe without fear. We must face the absurdity of life and embrace it so as to be true to ourselves and gain the contentment that we search for as human beings.

The first of many philosophical musings...

Absurd Sisyphus.