Philosophical Suicide

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus claimed that realization of the Absurd arises when the human need to understand meets “the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle.”  He asserted that the universe was so vast and complex that it was beyond the abilities of human understanding, and that our hunger for understanding the universe is doomed to failure.  Once one realizes this absurdity, life is literally brought to a standstill.  The dilemma results in three paths of selection.  One can embrace faith and relinquish control to God, choose to self-destruct or battle with the notion of the Absurd directly.  Camus recommended the latter of the three.  He claimed that the concept of suicide was even more absurd than living itself, and that turning to God would be committing “philosophical suicide.”

So what exactly did he mean by “philosophical suicide?”  For many people, the notion of abandoning reason and accepting a belief in God isn’t philosophical suicide.  Camus wasn’t addressing those who have devoted themselves to a religious lifestyle by finding and building a relationship with God.  He was addressing those who have come to realize the absurdity of human life.  In order to truly be cognizant of the Absurd, one has to recognize that it is impossible to conceive the complexities of the reality we live in.  A devout theist has already acknowledged that God provides the reason, and that by affirming a relationship with God, they are providing an end to the means.  A true theist is never confronted with the Absurd, and if they were, they would be abandoning faith.  Camus was arguing that once an individual realizes the Absurd, turning to God at this point is “philosophical suicide.”

By living with the Absurd in spite of it, one leaves themselves open to many different philosophical ideals.  An Absurdist has the freedom to see other practices from a neutral, uninvolved perspective.  An Absurdist doesn’t accept atheism any more than they would accept theism.  To an Absurdist, there might be a God, but humans can never know for certain.  Any meaning they define is personal, and faces the Absurd.  There is no way to tell whether the meaning they construct conforms to any universal meaning.  So an Absurdist may consider many philosophies when developing meaning for living.

My take is simply this:  If one fully embraces any one philosophy over others, then they have hindered their ability to view life from another vantage.  That isn’t to say that it is impossible for a true theist to understand an atheist, it is just very difficult and highly unlikely.  How can one earnestly and truly consider that there is no God, all the while living a life in full and utter acceptance that there is?  Just the same, how can one earnestly and truly consider that there is a God, while they have chosen a lifestyle that concludes unequivocally that there isn’t?  How can either expect to truly bridge any gap of understanding between themselves and the others if they cannot take a step out of their own faith?  If they are able to step out of their own faith and consider the alternative, are they truly living honestly with themselves?  I dare not say it is impossible, but reassert that it is incredibly challenging.  I’m also willing to consider the possibility that it is not humanly possible.

Many would argue that they have experienced both lifestyles, and that their first hand exposure allows them to understand both.  I would argue that it is a matter of current perspective.  For instance, I could attest that I recall what it is like to be a child.  I was once a child, and therefore I must know what it is like to be one.  The fact remains that I was ONCE a child, but am no longer.  I might recall some aspects of my childhood, but I cannot conclusively state that I still know exactly what it is like.  Why is it that so many parents have difficulty connecting with their teenage children?  If they truly remembered what it was like to be a teen, why can’t they effectively communicate with a teenager?  The fault in the idea lies in the fact that although they might recall what it was like to be in youth, there will always remain a disconnect.  They not only know what it is like to be a child, but they also know what it is like to be an adult.  The experience of both alters perspective, therefor preventing complete association with the other.

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot”

-Anonymous, “Gospel of Matthew 6:24”



About suspendedoblivion

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