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As a cultural movement, existentialism belongs to the past. As aphilosophical inquiry that introduced a new norm, authenticity, forunderstanding what it means to be human—a norm tied to adistinctive, post-Cartesian concept of the self as practical, embodied,being-in-the-world—existentialism has continued to play animportant role in contemporary thought in both the continental andanalytic traditions. The Society for Phenomenology and ExistentialPhilosophy, as well as societies devoted to Heidegger, Sartre,Merleau-Ponty, Jaspers, Beauvoir, and other existential philosophers,provide a forum for ongoing work—both of a historical,scholarly nature and of more systematic focus—that derives fromclassical existentialism, often bringing it into confrontation withmore recent movements such as structuralism, deconstruction,hermeneutics, and feminism. In the area of gender studies Judith Butler(1990) draws importantly on existential sources, as does Lewis Gordon(1995) in the area of race theory (see also Bernasconi 2003). Matthew Ratcliffe (2008) develops an existential approach to psychopathology.

Reference marks are given for cited English translations.

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Library of Congress Catalog Data: ISSN 1095-5054

The essential paradox arising in Camus’s philosophy concernshis central notion of absurdity. Accepting the Aristotelian ideathat philosophy begins in wonder, Camus argues that human beings cannot escape asking the question, “What is the meaning ofexistence?” Camus, however, denies that there is an answer tothis question, and rejects every scientific, teleological,metaphysical, or human-created end that would provide an adequateanswer. Thus, while accepting that human beings inevitably seek to understand life’s purpose, Camus takes the skeptical position that the natural world, the universe, and the human enterprise remain silent about any such purpose. Since existence itself has no meaning, we must learn to bear an irresolvable emptiness. This paradoxical situation, then, between our impulse to ask ultimate questions and the impossibility of achieving any adequate answer, is what Camus calls the absurd. Camus’s philosophy of the absurd explores the consequences arising from this basic paradox.

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The Myth of Sisyphus - Humour Spot

Albert Camus (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

According to Camus, the execution of King Louis XVI during theFrench Revolution was the decisive step demonstrating the pursuit ofjustice without regard to limits. It contradicted the originallife-affirming, self-affirming, and unifying purpose of revolt. Thisdiscussion belongs to Camus’s “history of Europeanpride,” which is prefaced by certain ideas from the Greeks andcertain aspects of early Christianity, but begins in earnest with theadvent of modernity. Camus focuses on a variety of major figures,movements, and literary works: the Marquis de Sade, romanticism,dandyism, The Brothers Karamazov, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche,surrealism, the Nazis, and above all the Bolsheviks. Camus describesrevolt as increasing its force over time and turning into an ever moredesperate nihilism, overthrowing God and putting man in his place,wielding power more and more brutally. Historical revolt, rooted inmetaphysical revolt, leads to revolutions seeking to eliminateabsurdity by using murder as their central tool to take total controlover the world. Communism is the contemporary expression of thisWestern sickness.

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There are those, however, who ignore the dilemma: these are thebelievers in history, heirs of Hegel and Marx who imagine a time wheninequality and oppression will cease and humans will finally behappy. For Camus this resembles the paradise beyond this life promisedby religions, and he speaks of living for, and sacrificing humans for,a supposedly better future as, very simply, anotherreligion. Moreover, his sharpest hostility is reserved forintellectuals who theorize and justify such movements. Accepting thedilemma, Camus is unable to spell out how a successful revolution canremain committed to the solidaristic and life-affirming principle ofrebellion with which it began. He does however suggest two actionswhich, if implemented, would be signs of a revolution’s commitment toremain rebellious: it would abolish the death penalty and it wouldencourage rather than restrict freedom of speech.

Existentialism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

As Ronald Srigley describes it, Camus’s is a complex and profoundphilosophical project, one that is both neglected andmisunderstood—seeking not only to critique modernity but reachback to the ancient world to lay the basis for alternative ways ofthinking and living. Thus in the twenty-first century Camus remainsrelevant for having looked askance at Western civilization sinceclassical times, at progress, and at the modern world. At the heart ofhis analyses lie his ambivalent exploration of what it is like to livein a Godless universe. “When the throne of God is overturned,the rebel realizes that it is now his own responsibility to create thejustice, the order, and the unity that he sought in vain within hisown condition, and in this way to justify the fall of God. Then beginsthe desperate effort to create, at the price of crime and murder ifnecessary, the dominion of man” (R, 25). But torestrain oneself from this effort is to feel bereft of justice, order,and unity. Camus recognizes that hope and the revolutionary drive areessential directions of the post-classical Western spirit, stemmingfrom its entire world of culture, thought, and feeling.