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Camus, Kierkegaard, and Happiness March 19, 2012

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Albert Camus, a twentieth century French journalist and philosopher, focused on understanding contentment and purpose. He wrote several essays and novels, including The Myth of Sisyphus, which attempted to address these questions.[1] In his writings, he argued that one should seek to find contentment not through religion, reason, and greater purpose, but rather by embracing the indifference of the world.[2]

Camus also asserted that people cannot ever fully comprehend and know life or an afterlife; therefore, they should not attempt to understand it. The more human beings search for a greater purpose, the more they become trapped in absurdity. Furthermore, “since existence itself has no meaning, we must learn to bear an irresolvable emptiness.”[3] Humans must abandon the search for meaning and instead focus on the present (not the false hope of an afterlife) and do what is immediately pleasing to the senses.[4]

In many of his works, Camus opposed several existentialist philosophers, including Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard, unlike Camus, focuses on finding contentment through religion and thus taking a leap of faith. Kierkegaard established three spheres of existence: aesthetic, ethical and religious. It seems that Kierkegaard suggests that most people should live in some combination of the three. However, in Dr. David Roberts’ recent lecture on Kierkegaard, he critiqued Kierkegaard’s ethical way of life and suggested further emphasis on the religious way. [5] In his critique, he mentioned that people become so engrossed in the redundancy of life that it begins to lose meaning. He suggested that the happiness that comes from this repetition is merely a defense mechanism and a false allusion and true happiness can only be attained through the religious sphere.

At the end of the lecture, another philosophy professor raised the issue of Sisyphus’ happiness in Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. In the essay, Sisyphus has been condemned by the Gods to eternally push a boulder to the top of the mountain and then watch it roll back down. While it may seem that Sisyphus is trapped in the redundancy of the task, Camus argues that, in fact, Sisyphus has conquered the task. He has found joy because “His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing.”[6] At the end of the essay, Camus states, “this universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile.”[7]  Sisyphus has managed to find contentment despite the need for a god. Since Dr. Roberts’ paper argued that true happiness must come from the religious sphere, the professor asked what Kierkegaard might say to Camus who seems to argue that it is possible to find true contentment without the belief or need for a higher being. I don’t believe Dr. Roberts answered the question, and although I don’t have a sufficient alternative, I will merely offer a suggestion.

Perhaps Camus’ absurdity argument should be considered. It seems that “one should imagine Sisyphus [and others who subscribe to Camus’ skeptical philosophy] happy.”[8] I cannot argue with this because I have never abandoned my search for purpose and reason; however, it seems to me that those I have known who have stopped searching haven’t found true contentment. I think Kierkegaard might say that if one is able to find some contentment through abandonment, then that is merely a false allusion.

One last point—it is possible to conclude that since one is unable to rationally understand and know everything that God must not exist, like Camus. However, it is also possible to argue that God must exist because humans can never know everything. The latter, I feel, is the more humble approach.

(If you’ll recall, I’m currently in a class called “The Writings of Soren Kierkegaard.” Please keep in mind that I am merely a student of religion and philosophy and do not claim to be an expert on either Kierkegaard or Camus.)

[1] Ronald Aronson. “Albert Camus”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = <;.

[2] James Bednar. Philosophy Department. Wofford College

[3] Aronson, Stanford Encyclopedia.

[4] Aronson, Stanford Encyclopedia.

[5] David Roberts. “Becoming Self” Paper. Wofford College March 15, 2012.

[6] Camus, Albert. “The Myth of Sisyphus.” The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays,. New York: Vintage, 1955. 91.

[7] Camus, “Sisyphus,” 91.

[8] Albert Camus, Sisyphus.” 91.


2 Responses to “Camus, Kierkegaard, and Happiness”

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