Camus, Albert

Born in 1913, Albert Camus was a French philosopher, writer, and playwright of Algerian descent. Camus was confronted very early in his life by the contradictions that forged his conception of death. While celebrating the multiple splendours of life and the exuberance of nature, he was struck by an illness (tuberculosis) that had lasting effects throughout his life. This was the beginning of his conception of the absurdity of life, best summarized by the title character of his 1938 play Caligula, who said, "Men die, and they are not happy" (1.4).

Camus was an atheist, and the notions of divinity or life after death were evacuated from his philosophical conception. So, if one cannot find sense in dying, one must invest all of one's energies (despite the apparent absurdity of existence) into action: There is an obligation on humans to act—by revolting against things as they are, assuming their freedom, fighting for the values of justice, equality, and brotherhood. This, however, presupposes that one chooses to live; to Camus, as he writes at the very beginning of his essay on the absurd, The Myth of Sisyphus, "There is but one truly philosophical problem and that is suicide" (p. 11). This affirms the liberty that individuals have to dispose of their life as they wish. Camus is not, however, an apologist of suicide. He is a passionate advocate for the freedom of choice. In concluding The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus cannot help but ask the reader to "imagine Sisyphus happy." Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. He died in a car accident in 1960.

See also: Kierkegaard, SØren ; Philosophy, Western ; Sartre, Jean-Paul


Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, translated by Justin O'Brien. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1955.

Camus, Albert. The Stranger. New York: Random House, 1966.

Todd, Oliver. Albert Camus: A Life, translated by Benjamin Ivry. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.


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