The Genius Philosophy of Albert Camus - ReadScholars

The Genius Philosophy of Albert Camus - ReadScholars

The Genius Philosophy of Albert Camus

The Quest for Meaning in Life

The desire for meaning in life is a fundamental human dilemma. The universe offers no clear answer to the question of meaning. It is akin to writing letters to someone who never responds. This desire for meaning is inherent in every human being.

The Absurdity of Life

Philosophers have sought to find a logical answer to the question of meaning. Nihilism, the belief that life has no meaning, was a popular answer. This raises the question: why do we continue to live if life is meaningless? Despite the meaninglessness, we all continue to live.

Camus' Early Life and Influences

Camus contracted tuberculosis at the age of 17, which led to a sudden halt in his education and soccer career, causing him to move in with his butcher uncle to avoid infecting others.

Isolation and Disease as Influences

For Camus, isolation, but more importantly, his experience with illness, along with witnessing animals being killed to feed people, gave him a sharp existential focus on the nature of life, which sparked a deep interest in philosophy, particularly Schopenhauer's pessimistic philosophy, Nietzsche's atheistic philosophy, and Marx's philosophy of equality.

Discovering Ancient Greek Philosophers

Through Nietzsche, especially his influential book, "The Birth of Tragedy," Camus also discovered the ancient Greek philosophers.

Tuberculosis and Pessimistic Views

It's worth noting that Anton Chekhov, the Russian genius, also lived with tuberculosis for a significant portion of his life, resulting in an extremely dark and pessimistic view of life. However, both Camus and Chekhov transformed this pessimism into optimism, with Camus primarily through philosophy and Chekhov through storytelling.

Camus' Study of Philosophy

In 1933, Camus entered the University of Algiers, where he unsurprisingly studied philosophy and wrote his thesis on Epictetus, the Graeco-Roman philosopher born in Egypt, who emphasized ideas about matter and the mind over the body. Epictetus was also influenced by Eastern philosophy when he traveled to Persia and learned about Indian enlightenment to escape the cycle of reincarnation. Epictetus was also a pioneer of modern Stoicism, which gave Plato's philosophy an Eastern flavor by emphasizing the unity of the mind and body and the idea of a single entity.

Comparing Christianity and Ancient Greek Philosophy

In his college thesis, Camus compared Christianity to ancient Greek philosophy, arguing that the Christian promise of an afterlife made this life almost meaningless and unnecessary, as one could die at birth and go straight to heaven. Living a long life would only increase one's chances of committing more sins that would lead to hell. It was logical not to live long if heaven was guaranteed for children. Therefore, for Camus, most religions did not value this life; they only treated it as a test for the afterlife. Camus realized that the Greeks, on the other hand, celebrated this life despite their belief in divine power. It's no wonder that Camus, just like Nietzsche, turned to ancient Greece to find a true atheistic meaning of life in one of his most famous works, "The Myth of Sisyphus," which I will discuss later.

Camus' Passions: Soccer

Outside of academics, Camus had two passions. Firstly, playing goalkeeper for a professional soccer team or a local soccer team in Algeria. As a goalkeeper, he had a clear view of the entire football field, which gave him a better perspective on who is who and where they stand, undoubtedly aiding his philosophical and artistic observation skills.

Camus' Passions: Theater and Communism

Camus' second passion included theater, community, and communism. In 1936, Camus joined the French Communist Party and later the Algerian Communist Party, actively organizing and voicing his support for communism.

Camus' passion for theater and Marxism

After being kicked out of the play, Camus continued his involvement in theater. He found a sense of collective work and camaraderie through his engagement in theater. Camus was drawn to Marxism because it emphasized collective solidarity. Later in his life, he continued to work with theater and famously directed the play adaptation of Dostoevsky's "Demons" which raised questions about the communist revolution. As he grew older, Camus no longer identified as a communist because he witnessed the suppression of individual freedom in the Soviet Union.

The Philosophy of Albert Camus

Camus changed the concept of the will to live to the will to happiness. "Life is about our deep desire to be happy, not about survival or conquering." As a result, the narrative begins with the desire for happiness."

The book is separated into two sections: "Natural Death" and "Conscious Death.

"First and foremost, it is a two-part book. The first part is titled "Natural Death" and revolves around Patrice Mersault, who incidentally shares the same name as the protagonist of Camus' most famous novel, The Stranger. He has a mundane life, a boring job, and an indifferent partner. When he encounters a rich but disabled man, he decides to kill him to take his money. This is similar to Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, except that Raskolnikov could never use the stolen money."

"The second section is named "Conscious Death," and it describes Mersault's life once he becomes wealthy. He still fails to find happiness, despite his pursuit of it everywhere. Eventually, he becomes seriously ill, and at the brink of death, he is finally happy. It is a satirical story of a man searching for a happy life, only to find happiness when he approaches death." This second part portrays Mersault's life after becoming rich. However, he still fails to find happiness despite searching for it everywhere. In the end, when he falls seriously ill and is about to die, he finally finds happiness.

"Albert Camus contrasts "Natural Death" with "Conscious Death." The first part has the title of killing as a natural death because, in nature, death comes somewhat unexpectedly during the process of dying due to illness. Whereas in the second part, it is deliberate death because we are conscious of it. The novel raises important questions about our pursuit of happiness but failing to be happy. In other words, we strive for happiness but do not know how to be happy. It is like a librarian who collects an infinite number of books but cannot read them."

"The Stranger" is Camus' most famous novel published in 1942. It tells the story of Meursault, a French man living in Algeria. The story includes three main plot points or deaths: the death of Meursault's mother, the killing of an Arab man, and Meursault's own execution.

Awareness of death makes humans unique among animals, as each death awakens something in Meursault from his animalistic indifference and provides him with some clarity.

Sartre believes that we are condemned to be free, while Camus believes that we are condemned to die, but also guilty.

The central question of the novel, according to Camus, revolves around the expectations of society, as depicted by the quote: "In our society, any man who does not cry at his mother's funeral faces the death penalty."As a result, the key question that Camus addresses to himself is at the center of the work. "In our society, any man who does not cry at his mother's funeral risks being sentenced to death," Camus writes. In other words, one is not only guilty of murder but also of failing to mourn at their mother's burial. This is the type of man Camus portrays: emotionally unavailable. A word used by women to characterize some guys nowadays."

Meursault's Indifference

Mersault does not ask questions and does not think about whether his actions might harm someone. He simply acts on his current feelings without feeling guilty for past events. Mersault's indifference is demonstrated when he shows no concern about the negative judgment he received when he sent his mother to live in a care home.

Meursault's Awakening

Mersault undergoes a form of Freudian psychoanalytic treatment or a confessional of the church in the face of the priest. For the first time in his life, he contemplates and becomes aware of the human condition. Mersault realizes that although he was once animal-like, he now understands death as a human experience.

Meursault's Yearning for Execution

Mersault not only feels content but also looks forward to his execution. He seeks to hear the hatred of the public so that he will not be alone in his death.

Camus's Exploration of Death and Guilt in "The Stranger"

Albert Camus raises two important questions in his book, "The Stranger": our human perception of death and the feeling of guilt. The novel contains three deaths, one natural, one illegal murder, and one execution. The first death, his mother's, doesn't affect Mersault much. He is also indifferent to the second death he causes. However, when it comes to his own execution, he finally wakes up and becomes fully aware. From an evolutionary standpoint, humans might be the only species that realizes their own death, enhancing our sense of consciousness. Albert Camus echoes the notion that death brings clarity to our lives. It makes us more aware to live a fuller life.

Understanding our shared humanity

Albert Camus's philosophy makes us realize that we are not strangers, but just like any other person, simply another human being.

Embracing the inevitability of death

Camus understands and anticipates death. He recognizes that he is not exempt from it, just like anyone else. Knowing that he is connected to others through the experience of death is liberating for him. Finally, this realization brings him happiness. It becomes a part of the bigger picture.

"The Plague" is a portrayal of the human struggle

"The Plague" was published in 1947 in the city of Oran, Algeria, where people are faced with a plague caused by rats. It is a Kafkaesque novel about how individuals are at the mercy of their fate and their community, and how death is harsh and random.

The unfolding of the plague in "The Plague"

The novel begins with the appearance of numerous dead rats in the streets of Oran. Soon after, the first human death occurs, followed by more deaths. There is a state of panic, but the authorities try to downplay the severity of the situation. As the death toll rises, the city gates are closed, turning the city into a massive prison.

How do people react? When life is good, everyone is fine. When things go south, true character emerges. Some characters, like the doctor, genuinely try to help others, while the priest takes advantage of the opportunity to spread his religious beliefs by blaming people for their sins because of the plague.

Criminals become rich by finding underground ways to smuggle people in and out of the city. People throw the plague at each other, using the situation for their own benefit. Except for the journalist, who is a stranger and ironically trapped in the town because he is trying to escape to see his wife. When given the chance to escape during a fire, he can't bring himself to see others suffer when he could be free. It is the opposite of Mersault.

The deeper meaning and hope in "The Plague"

He realizes that his own happiness would be tainted if others are not happy. Through his stay in the city, Camus shows a glimpse of humanity, a kind of hope at the end of the tunnel.

The relationship between the individual and the community in "The Plague"

In "The Plague," Camus delves into the link between the individual and the community. Is society just a collection of individuals, or are we connected on a deeper level? Can we be individually happy when we see others suffering?

The novel is a symbolic story of the German occupation of France in the 1940s. Just like the dangers of Nazism, when the city receives news of the plague, they initially ignore it, but by the time they realize it, it is too late.

Germany occupied France, and the plague takes control of the city of Oran. The French individuals could lead happy lives if they escaped France or surrendered to the Germans or collaborated with them. However, Camus argues that individual happiness is somewhat shameful because of the deeper connection between humans. Self-sacrifice is deeply rooted in human nature. Fathers sacrifice for their children, soldiers for their country. When life is peaceful, we forget this, but when we face a true ordeal, we rise to the challenge and find that there is a greater purpose than saving our own skin.

The Transformation of Saints and Sinners

The novel "The Plague" depicts how the plague turns saints into sinners and sinners into saints. Camus suggests that humans are not fixed beings, but rather become human as Nietzsche claimed. Our circumstances greatly influence us, but fundamentally, we cannot be happy when we see others suffering. This realization usually only occurs during times of crisis, while in times of peace, we argue over trivial matters.

The Fall: Camus' Last Novel

"The Fall," published in 1956, is Albert Camus' final complete novel. The story is a confession of a fallen judge, set not in warm Algeria, but in the cold cities of Paris and Amsterdam.

From Success to Inner Turmoil

Clamence, a lawyer in Paris, is at the pinnacle of his game with money, fame, and power. However, one night he witnesses a woman committing suicide by jumping into the river and does nothing to intervene. He goes home and forgets about it, but the incident leaves a void in his soul or being that he cannot ignore. Despite his best efforts to forget, he feels something inside with every negative incident, attributing his failures to not doing the right thing that night and helping the woman.

Confronting Guilt and Self-Reflection

Clamence reaches a point where he questions himself. Throughout his life, he has been nothing but selfish. Every good action he took was for his own sake, and he wanted to cause terrible things to others. He realizes that despite his efforts to forget and move on, he feels a sense of guilt from that night and carries the burden of forever being guilty.

The Inescapability of Guilt

Clamence is forever condemned to guilt, not because of religion or God, but because it comes from within. He has no escape from this guilt and carries it with him for the rest of his life. Camus portrays the harshness of existence where one mistake will haunt a person forever, like a dark shadow in the night. The novel reveals Camus' struggle with women, as he was married but also had affairs that made him feel guilty.

The Inner Turmoil Leading to Fate

Clamence's successful external life is turned against him by his deep psyche, just as in Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment." The internal torment caused him to confess that it determined his fate. The guilt of not saving the woman results in Clamence being forever condemned to guilt and punishment.

The Consequences of Exiting

After making the decision to leave, one must face the consequences and the guilt that follows.

Albert Camus's quote emphasizes seeking solace in women, as they do not judge weakness and are more inclined to dismantle or disarm our strength.

Women become a harbor and refuge for Camus, with their beds serving as a general place of capture. He refers to women as the semblance of earthly paradise.

Guilt and Criminality

In the novel "The Stranger," the protagonist, Mersault, is guilty not only for the act of killing someone but also for not crying at his mother's funeral. In "The Fall," the protagonist is guilty, not for his actions, but for his inaction or cowardice in facing his responsibilities.

The philosophy of Camus suggests that whether we act or don't act, we are condemned to failure. Thus, we are not only guilty for what we do but also for what we don't do.

The Myth of Sisyphus

"The Myth of Sisyphus" is a philosophical essay written by Albert Camus and published in 1942. In this essay, Camus presents his philosophy of absurdism. Sisyphus, a Greek mythological figure, is sentenced to push a rock up a mountain only to watch it roll back down, repeating this process endlessly without any hope of change or cessation. This represents the futility and absurdity of life. Absurdism suggests that humans search for meaning or purpose in life, but the universe has no answer to offer. As there is no meaning to be found externally, the logical conclusion is that ending one's life is the only consistent option if life has no meaning. "Why should one live if life has no meaning? "Sisyphus might come to the conclusion that everything is OK. His fate is entirely in his hands. His specialty is rock." (The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus)

Embracing the Absurd

According to Camus, there are three options in response to the absurd. The first is to find freedom in manufacturing hope, as depicted in novels by Dostoevsky or Franz Kafka. However, this manufactured hope contradicts the essence of absurdity, which negates hope for the future. The second option is rebellion and seizing power, wealth, or land. But unfortunately, such pursuits are short-lived as one can both acquire and lose these things. The third option is passion, living a fulfilled life. However, even passion is temporary and fleeting.

Camus ultimately argues for understanding and accepting the absurdity of life, similar to Sisyphus. Each time Sisyphus descends to retrieve the rock, he comprehends the absurdity of his existence but accepts it. He never stops but endlessly pushes the rock.

Life itself is absurd, contradictory, and futile. However, the existence of this absurdity, contradictions, and futility necessitates human life. In other words, because life is absurd, it gives us the motivation to continue living. The alternative would be a religious view of an afterlife in heaven, which denies meaning to this life. Camus argues that the foolishness of this life makes it more worthwhile.

The Philosophy of Albert Camus

Camus believes that true joy comes from the struggles and contradictions of life, rather than from any particular achievements. He asserts that the struggle itself is enough to fill a person's heart and imagines Sisyphus, the Greek mythological figure condemned to endlessly roll a rock up a hill, as happy. Camus accepts the absurdity of life and embraces it as a part of human existence.

In tribal settings, camaraderie brought people together, but in today's world, families and communities have fallen apart. Loyalty and allegiance in the workplace have become more transactional and less spiritual, leading to loneliness and negative consequences. Being part of something bigger teaches loyalty, responsibility, and respect, and brings fulfillment.

Creating Art as a Source of Meaning

Albert Camus studied philosophy to become a teacher, but he found his vocation in writing. Writing allowed him to cope with the absurdities of life and create something meaningful. Camus created four major novels and many works of nonfiction, known for their philosophical depth. He believed that art, in any form, can give life meaning by engaging in skilled work and craft.

Embracing the Randomness of Life

Albert Camus believed that life's miseries are random, and he understood the unpredictable nature of pain and suffering. Despite the randomness, he embraced life with its absurdities and valued life itself over happiness. Camus's own death in a car accident, which he considered the most absurd death, exemplified his philosophy of embracing life's randomness.

The Liberating Power of Knowledge

Unlike Fyodor Dostoevsky, Camus was an atheist who believed in facing the cold hard truth of life. He saw knowledge as liberating, rejecting the idea of closing one's eyes and pretending life is good or protected by a god. Camus emphasized the importance of finding a solid solution in the pursuit of meaning and embracing painful truths over comforting lies.

Accepting Death as Part of Life

In his novel "A Happy Death," Camus explores the concept of death and happiness. He argues that the fear of death is like having a burden that prevents one from fully embracing life. Facing the prospect of death, Camus's protagonists finally realize true happiness by fully accepting death as part of life.

Embracing the Present Moment

In "The Stranger," Camus presents a protagonist who lives a dull and indifferent life, leaving important decisions to others. The novel reflects the animalistic side of human life, where many people live in the present without much thought for the future or past. Camus suggests that life happens in the here and now, and people often resort to substances or distractions to escape anxieties.

Life's meaning is found in the present moment

Meursault, in the novel "The Stranger," finds joy in the shifting sunlight on the prison wall while facing the death penalty. Happiness is not external but exists in the here and now. Perception plays a role in experiencing happiness and seeing the world. "So happiness is not out there, it is in here and now. It only depends on if you can see it or how you see the world." (Fiction Beast)

Crises can bring out courage and unity

In the novel "The Plague," Camus contrasts an individual's desire for freedom with society's goal to continue. The ongoing plague leads to a switch where people become more courageous and selfless. Tragedies often bring people together and sharpen our instinct for survival. "It takes a while for us to show our courage when a society faces a disaster." Human bravery exists deep inside us as well, and when it is activated, we rise to the challenge of being better than ourselves." (Fiction Beast)

Life's hardships reveal admirable qualities

Camus highlights the importance of courage in the face of calamities. Humanity's history is marked by courageous deeds in times of crisis. Admiration for others outweighs despising them during times of pestilence. "In times of pestilence, we learn, quite simply, that there are more things to admire in men than to despise." (Albert Camus)

Life's absurdity is grappled with by seeking meaning

Albert Camus explores the contradiction of human existence in his essay "The Myth of Sisyphus." Humans long for happiness and reason, yet the universe remains silent. The absurdity stems from the contrast between human needs and the unreasonable silence of the world.

Finding meaning in life's struggles

Camus suggests finding meaning in life's hardships rather than seeking comforting stories. Embracing life's struggles allows for a deeper appreciation of joy. Avoiding hardship only makes life more difficult.

"Life's meant to be hard, we are meant to struggle and get on with it." (Fiction Beast)

Rebellion as an active response to life's challenges

Albert Camus merges the social rebellion of Marx with the individualist rebellion of Nietzsche. He emphasizes the importance of rebellion against the modern condition. Creative expression and fighting against injustice go hand-in-hand. "I revolt, therefore we exist." (Albert Camus)


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