April 1, 2006

Camus’ Purpose Driven Life

Posted in non-fiction, philosophy at 2:21 am by Jerry

I just finished reading Camus' existential essay Myth of Sisyphus, recently published by Penguin Books in their Great Ideas selection. Before I (as usual) throw out some quotes of interest, I should explain my bias about existentialism: I have a love/hate relationship with existentialism. I love everything about existentialism except its most fundamental tenet – existence precedes essence.

I have a hard time believing that there are no essential meanings in existence, and that we are fated to create meaning out of nothing. I think existence is simultaneously essentialist (intrinsic meaning), and from this actuality, meaning can be retrieved. The problem is, if people asked me to retrieve intrinsic meaning from our existence, I would not be able to satisfy them.

There exists an obvious fact that seems utterly moral: namely, that a man is always a prey to his truths. p.30.

There are famous people considered by Gabriel Marcel to be Christian Existentialists (Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Tillich); however, Atheist Existentialists consider "Christian Existentialists" to be an oxymoron (and "Atheist Existentialists" redundant) because Christianity customarily assumes – God gave meaning to His/Her creation when She created it because meaning is found in God. And yet, how many Christians have you heard unintentionally describe themselves as existentialists in the manner of the next quote?:

For the existentials negation is their God. To be precise, that god is maintained only through the negation of reason. (footnote – Let me assert again: it is not the affirmation of God that is questioned here, but rather the logic to the affirmation.) p.40.

This book is introduced as an "..argument for the value of life in a world without religious meaning" (synopsis on back cover). Camus says –

…belief in the absurd is tantamount to substituting the quantity of experiences for the quality. If I convince myself that this life has no other aspect than that of the absurd, if I feel that its whole equilibrium depends on that perpetual opposition between my conscious revolt and the darkness in which it struggles, if I admit that my freedom has no meaning except in relation to its limited fate, then I must say that what counts is not the best living but the most living. p.58.

Camus illustrates:

To men living the same number of years, the world always provides the same sum of experiences. It is up to us to be conscious of them. Being aware of one's life, one's revolt, one's freedom, and to the maximum, is living, and to the maximum. p.60-61

..The present and the succession of presents before a constantly conscious soul is the ideal of the absurd man. p.61-62.

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2 Comments »

  1. Jena said,

    Just as it is the choice and freedom of atheistic existentialists to believe God does not exist, Christian existentialists choose to freely believe in and have a personal connection with the Judeo-Christian God, precisely because it is absurd or paradoxical. Kierkegaard understood that it is absurd and paradoxical, and the foremost example is the absurdity that Christ was both man and God.

  2. Jerry said,

    Hi Jena, nice to meet you. I think I understand where you are coming from in your argument. I gather you prefer to oppose the determinist stance (and I would say you were determined to do that). Nevertheless, I still would have to say, again, (second paragraph in my post):

    “I have a hard time believing that there are no essential meanings in existence, and that we are fated to create meaning out of nothing. I think existence is simultaneously essentialist (intrinsic meaning), and from this actuality, meaning can be retrieved. The problem is, if people asked me to retrieve intrinsic meaning from our existence, I would not be able to satisfy them.”


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