The Myth of Sisyphus

by

Albert Camus

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The Myth of Sisyphus: 4. Absurd Freedom Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Camus reiterates that there are only two “certainties” in life: “my appetite for the absolute and for unity and the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle.” To address the absurd, says Camus, man must live in constant knowledge of these facts. He believes that this constitutes a kind of freedom, in which man can live “solely with what he knows.”
In essence, someone who lives with the absurd in full view wins for themselves a kind of freedom—that is, freedom from false hope and beliefs. This skepticism stems back to previous rationalist philosophy, but is distinguished by maintaining that there is only one truth: the absurd.
Themes
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Camus returns to the issue of suicide, stating that the problem has now been “reversed.” Living with the absurd means embracing it fully, not escaping it; self-annihilation (suicide) is merely a means of escape, in much the same way that hope is a way of sidestepping the absurd. Instead of suicide, man should “revolt” against the absurd by living with “the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.”
Suicide would constitute an elimination of absurd freedom, and therefore is not a rational solution. Camus ironically aligns suicide and hope here, which seem like polar opposite responses to life, but he illustrates how they’re both ways of dodging the reality at hand—that life is absurd and meaningless.
Themes
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Camus believes this “revolt” of living with the absurd restores “majesty” and “value” to life. The man who can live with the absurd, says Camus, must “drain everything to the bitter end, and deplete himself.”
There is a slight contradiction in Camus’ line of thinking here. The absurd is meant to represent a destruction of any value system, but Camus seems to associate living with the absurd as fundamentally better than eluding it.
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Camus examines the notion of “freedom” in relation to the absurd. Before a man confronts the absurd, says Camus, he lives his life as if he were free by “thinking of the future, establishing aims for [himself], having preferences.” All of these are undermined by the certainty of death.
Camus thus argues for the replacement of a freedom in service of tomorrow (that is, having goals and “preferences” for the future) with a freedom in service of today, since death is inevitable.
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For Camus, the false idea of freedom that makes people “choose” what they want to be in life actually restricts them. He cites being a “father…engineer or the leader of a nation, or the post-office sub-clerk”—all of these occupations make a person conform to what is expected of the role. The absurd man, says Camus, “realizes that he was not really free.” Living with full, unflinching knowledge of absurdism thus constitutes the only possible freedom: the rejection of the old illusions of freedom.
Camus argues that people make a false choice of what they want “to be” (for example, a politician) which then typecasts them in habitual ways of living that undermine the absurdity of life. Knowing that life is meaningless—and fully accepting that—provides a more genuine freedom shorn of illusion. Once again, the examples Camus provides are predominantly masculine—the restrained lives he draws upon include a father, engineer, clerk, and political leader.
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Related Quotes
Camus perceives that living with the absurd necessitates a shift in an individual’s attitude towards their experiences. They should, he says, strive for quantity of experience rather than quality (because all ways of evaluating quality are undermined by the certainty of death). “What counts,” he asserts, “is not the best living but the most living.” This means living with full awareness of the absurd as much of the time as possible (rather than simply living longer).
This is a key principle of Camus’ thinking and his suggested response to the absurd. In Camus’ view, people should shift from living their lives qualitatively to quantitively, striving not for “better” experience but “more” experience. An obvious problem here is how it is possible to quantify experience—any system that might show that one life experiences more than another seems likely to rely on a qualitative judgment at some stage.
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Related Quotes
Camus argues that the absurd man sees life as “the present and the succession of presents,” illuminated by his determination not to let the absurd out of his sight. The absurd man doesn’t defer the moment for the future, and therefore engages the present with the “passionate flames of human revolt.”
Here, Camus’ thinking is oddly in anticipation of New Age philosophy and self-help texts, which stress the importance of “living in the moment.”
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Ultimately, Camus sees three consequences of the absurd: “my revolt, my freedom and my passion.” By applying unflinching logic to life, the absurd man rejects the “invitation to death,” meaning suicide. Camus concludes that he has outlined a way of thinking—but that “the point is to live.”
These are the three key principles of Camus’ response to the absurd. Firstly, one must revolt against being defeated by the absurd, by keeping it in constant view (rather than suppressing it or committing suicide as an escape). This defiance in light of certain failure is precisely why Camus bases his thinking on the Sisyphus myth. Secondly, people must achieve freedom from the false illusions that they use to give their lives meaning—an earthly freedom. Thirdly, people must have the passion to live in such a way that gives total commitment to the present moment.
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