Ideas on a Sunday: Rebellion as a way of life.

Trigger warning: this article will touch on the subject of suicide.

Absurdism in a nut shell:
Albert Camus believed that it was absurd to try to find meaning in a meaningless universe. If one accepts that life is meaningless, there may appear to be only two responses, either a physical suicide–the deliberate ending of your own life, or the suicide of reason to religiosity–surrendering to a belief in life after death. The hope intrinsic in the belief of an afterlife can cause you not to fully appreciate the life you have, or be properly able to deal with the problems that life may bring. Camus’ solution, when rejecting philosophical or physical suicide, was rebellion.

Sisyphus by Titian, c1548/49. Museo del Prado.

How do you rebel against a meaningless universe, a meaningless life? You stop trying to find meaning. You choose to live in the here and now, revelling in the senses to appreciate a world that has so much in it that is wondrous and beautiful. Camus expressed this in one sentence, “The world is beautiful, and outside there is no salvation” (pg. 103 in “Nuptials at Tipasa”, in Lyrical and Critical Essays, 1968.). However, exploring the pleasure of the senses is at odds with many beliefs. (SEP 2:5, 6) Does rebelling against a meaningless life lead to nihilism or anarchy? Not in the eyes of Camus, because that would mean submitting to the absurdity. We must rebel.

Camus said, in a twist of the Cartesian meme, “I rebel; therefore, we exist.” (pg. 22 in The Rebel, 1956) We all have a shared journey, a shared rebellion against the absurd, meaningless life. This means we must accept some responsibility towards society. And while Camus was a socialist in his leanings, he rejected communism, and he did not support revolutions that led to oppressive regimes.

“No doubt the rebel demands a certain freedom for himself; but in no circumstances does he demand, if he is consistent, the right to destroy the person and freedom of someone else. He degrades no one. The freedom which he demands he claims for everybody; that which he rejects he forbids all others to exercise. He is not simply a slave opposing his master but a man opposing the world of master and slave.”
(pg. 284 The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, 1956. New York Vintage Books accessed from the Internet Archive 2023-03-07)

The video below, from the YouTube channel Philosophies for Life, gives an interesting, but simplistic view of how to approach life which is in many ways, similar to my own. I diverge mostly in the idea of “following your heart”, which is a fickle and often hormone driven master. Like much on YouTube, sources for the ideas presented are lacking, but they seem to be largely in tune with what I have learned about Camus.

(Please note that the above is my opinion. I am not a student of philosophy; I only bring forward some of my limited understanding, mostly from secondary sources, of Camus’ and his ideas around Absurdism. These ideas often resonate with my own ongoing journey, and to many people it will no doubt seem to be much ado about nothing. It is worthwhile to note that Camus never thought of himself as a committed philosopher because he did not have enough faith in reason to create a system. He saw himself more as an artist than a philosopher. (SEP 1:4))

Questions or remarks? Please feel free to start a conversation in the comments section below.


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (SEP)


The Marginalian

3 thoughts on “Ideas on a Sunday: Rebellion as a way of life.

Add yours

  1. “The hope intrinsic in the belief of an afterlife can cause you not to fully appreciate the life you have, or be properly able to deal with the problems that life may bring.” In my experience of living amongst Christians, I would have to disagree. I know a young Christian doctor who has lost a child; lost his mother and is losing his father to illness; is himself suffering from a wasting condition that will eventually rob him of the ability to pursue his career or even to look after himself. Yet he is cheerful, uncomplaining, loving and caring of others, and continues to work as a doctor despite increasing mobility problems. I have never detected even a hint of self-pity. I could name other Christians living with constant pain from nerve damage or conditions like rheumatoid arthritis who continue to live useful, productive and fulfilled lives.


    1. The doctor you speak of sounds like a very admirable man.

      The sentence was a statement about religion in general and especially about the hope of life after death. It says “can” rather than “will”. Camus was certainly not stridently against religion, unlike the new atheists. In fact, I couldn’t find out much about his thoughts concerning religion at all.
      You give examples of people whose faith keeps them strong despite adversity. It may be that their hope in a golden afterlife helps them endure suffering. But then, even the faithless endure suffering, because generally we cling to life. However, the point was, specifically, that believing in an afterlife can cause people to make decisions that end up harming themselves and others. I’m sure in your lifetime you have also met Christian’s who have counted on their faith and prayer to solve health issues rather than just get help from a qualified health practitioner. I have seen that. I remember one woman, in my early working days who had severe astigmatism, who suddenly decided to stop wearing contacts or glasses, because she thought her faith would cure her. It didn’t.

      Looking at a bigger picture, I see the Catholics who won’t use contraception, no matter how much suffering large families can cause in poverty-stricken areas, I see the gullible flock, in America and Africa, also often poor, that turn evangelists into jet-setting millionaires; there’s followers of the Branch Davidians, the James Joneses; then the Jehovah Witnesses who deny blood transfusions…the list goes on and on.
      Yes, if course, people (and nations) who don’t have hope in an afterlife can also make poor decisions, but religion can add an extra layer of vulnerability.


      1. Yes, you did say ‘can’ and I acknowledge the validity of all the points you raise in response to my comment, but I thought it only fair to mention the positives that ‘can’ result from belief in an afterlife – and religion in general. Of course, that says nothing about the truth or otherwise of any religious belief; we are only speaking of its utility or otherwise in enabling people to deal with life on an unsafe planet.

        Liked by 1 person

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