“As if this great outburst of anger has purged all my ills, killed all my hopes, I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the word.” (Camus, A. The Outsider)
In this talk, I intend to cover three main themes: defining absurdity, responding to absurdity and living with absurdity. I will consider the views of many great thinkers from the 19th and 20th centuries including: Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Søren Kierkegaard, Leo Tolstoy and Sigmund Freud.
Absurdity, when in the context of existentialism, refers to the seemingly incongruent relationship between mankind and the passive universe. It is a habit of human beings to turn to something in their time of need – more often than not this something is of a divine nature. What is returned, however, is nothingness. This is the absurd – conscious human beings who turn to deities or otherwise for support are given nothing in return. As Camus puts it: “The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” Human existence, then, is meaningless. Without a celestial artificer to plan our destinies, there is no objective meaning to life. Camus is particularly critical of religious existentialists, declaring that they “Deify what crushes them.” This is a view shared by Sigmund Freud and of many people in the 21st century. Religious belief, then, is a method of coping with and explaining the uncaring world.
So, in the knowledge that life is absurd, what is the best way to respond to absurdity? There are several ways posited by those who concern themselves with the absurd. We will discuss a number of these responses such as: suicide, ignorance, religiosity, irony and rebellion. These are all perfectly legitimate ways to respond to the absurd, but which way is truly best?
Even if we take an appropriate response to the absurd, we are still faced with the problem of life being apparently meaningless. But is this the case? Is life really meaningless in the face of absurdity?
About the Speaker
I am a 4th year student of Philosophy and Religious Studies with a particular interest in existentialism. In particular, my interests lie within how human beings deal with absurdity, boredom, death and suffering. As well as my interests in existentialism, I am particularly interested in Metaphysics, Philosophy of Religion, Psychology of Religion and the role that Myth plays in explaining the human condition. I would label myself as an absurdist – I believe that life is absurd and that it is objectively meaningless: I do not, however, believe that life is meaningless on the level of the human mind. I am also a keen cider drinker!