Saturday, April 29, 2023

Phil 416: Søren Kierkegaard: Confronting “the Possibility of Freedom”

Søren Kierkegaard: Confronting “the Possibility of Freedom”

The starving, young boy, Michael Kierkegaard, was watching over sheep in the bitter cold. He must have resented his lot in life, and in a defiant act “stood on a hilltop and cursed God” (Carlisle). However, he would regret this act and come to believe that in response to his impiousness, God had cursed him and would take “the lives of all seven of his children before they reached the age of 34 (the age of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion)” (McDonald). All but two of his children (Peter and Søren) indeed died before the age of 34. Being fully aware of this perceived curse, Søren Kierkegaard’s own anxiety would strike him like a whip and drive him, from a young age, to find his purpose in life and become accomplished, before the age of 34 (McDonald). While many people may not be anxiously pursued by a perceived god-curse, they still suffer a similar angst in endeavoring to understand their place in life. Thankfully because of Søren Kierkegaard’s suffering and his quest to be the Christian Socrates, those who read his works may find answers in their pursuit to grow through anxiety and onward to the “possibility of freedom” (Kierkegaard 196).

Born on May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen, Kierkegaard’s unease grew strong as a young boy. He “looked up at his stern father with fear and trembling,” and one time he observed “the anxiety with which my father filled my soul, his own frightful melancholy, the many things in this connection that I cannot even write down” (Carlisle). By the age of 17, he entered the university at Copenhagen, and for the next eleven years would laboriously study, anxiously seek his meaning in life, waffle back and forth with marriage and then finally defend his dissertation in 1841 (McDonald). It was during these years his anxiety deepened, especially regarding his securing his true aim in life. He wrote,

What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth that is true for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die” (Carlisle).

In the final year of university, he proposed to Regine Olsen, and she consented. However, in his search to find his purpose in life, he came to realize that he could not marry Regine. While there appears to be no explicit reason for backing out of the proposal, there does seem to be some indication that the calling of becoming “the Socrates of Christendom” had a stronger sway on him, and in that role, he could “not subject Regine” to the life of his “philosophical task” (Carlisle).

For the next fourteen years until his death on November 11, 1855, Kierkegaard would write profusely and leverage various writing methods such as pseudonyms, “irony, parody, satire, humor, and deconstructive techniques” in order to awaken Christians out of their intellectual ruts and routines (McDonald). Like an unremitting horsefly, Kierkegaard “constantly [irritated] his contemporaries with discomforting thoughts” to force them “to take individual responsibility for knowing who they are and for knowing where they stand on the existential, ethical and religious issues” (McDonald). This discomfort was the initial stage of prodding his readers and fellow-Christians into a state of anxiety.

Anxiety is the soil for growth and possibility. “Kierkegaard sees man as the creature who is continually beckoned by possibility, who conceives of possibility, visualizes it, and by creative activity carries it into actuality” (May 39). In this mindset of possibility, man experiences more anxiety. But in order to achieve freedom, the individual must “confront that anxiety and move ahead despite it” (41). Yet in that moment of intending to “move ahead,” the individual “at the same time wishes not” to move ahead (42). The choice to press on is the hallmark of a healthy individual, while the unhealthy person remains “shut-in” (42). Another obstacle for a person to overcome is the “belief in fate” (44).

Regarding fate, Kierkegaard wrote that it “is the unity of necessity and the accidental” (Kierkegaard 96). Consequently, when one accepts the belief of fate, “the full meaning of anxiety and guilt are not felt” (May 44). And because of the lack of anxiety, “fate sets limits on creativity” and for the “creative genius” to attain success, he must move “through anxiety and guilt” (44). Indeed, one must embrace the anxiety one feels and treat it like a painful prescription from a doctor.

By having an open mind and welcoming possibilities, one must view anxiety as medical treatment that is painful. To achieve what one imagines, one must pay the price to be healed. This dreadful remedy reveals to him his existence, and his “human situation … [and] the fact of death” (46). However, one must not shirk the procedure. Kierkegaard reminds us to be like Socrates, who, when faced with the hemlock did so “as a patient [who] says to the surgeon when a painful operation is about to begin, ‘Now I am ready.’ Then anxiety enters his soul and searches it thoroughly, constraining out of him all the finite and petty, and leading him hence whither he would go” (46).

In conclusion, Kierkegaard’s life, from his childhood to his lived experience, to his voluminous writings, was a life of educational angst. While his father and his momentary fiancé provided him much consternation, he nonetheless confronted these and all his anxieties – including searching and securing his true aim in life: becoming the Christian Socrates. Once secure in his unique objective in life, he leveraged many techniques to induce discomfort and anxiety in his readers. And if his readers embrace this anxiety, as did Kierkegaard, then their obstacle becomes the path toward the possibility of freedom and meaning. In sum, anxiety is “an adventure that every human being must go through – to learn to be anxious so that he may not perish either by never having been in anxiety, or by succumbing in anxiety” (Kierkegaard 155). 

Works Cited

Carlisle, Clare. Philosopher of the Heart. E-book ed., Penguin UK, 2019.

Kierkegaard, Søren. The Concept of Anxiety : A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin. Translated by Reidar Thomte and Albert Anderson, Princeton University Press, 1980.

May, Ph.D., Rollo. The Meaning Of Anxiety, Hauraki Publishing, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central,

McDonald, William. “Søren Kierkegaard (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 2017,

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Phil 416 - The Absurd Mission

The Absurd Mission

In his seminal work The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus quotes the Dostoevsky character Kirilov who ruminates on the idea that upon dying Christ “did not find himself in Paradise” and that his life, suffering and torture “had been useless” (Camus 98). Kirilov ponders a Christ who lived “in the midst of falsehood and [died] for a falsehood” (98). Camus commentates that Jesus in this situation is “the complete man” since he is in “the most absurd condition” (98). Three men, from the 1750s living in the south American region near Iguazu Falls, found themselves in a similar situation, where they devoted and gave their lives to helping the Guarani natives, knowing full well they would receive no recompense and perhaps knowing their work would be useless. From the idea of men working consciously knowing their labors could be fruitless, to the moment the Guarani king, in exasperation, realizes the absurdity of God changing his mind, The Mission demonstrates what living an existentially absurd life may look like. To begin, one must ask: what is absurdism?

One can almost hear a boxing match announcer, with a loud, reverberating voice exclaim, “in the left corner, riled up, energized and ready to rumble, we have The Human Condition, seeking to secure and explain the meaning of human existence. And in the right corner …” The announcer falls silent as there is no opponent. This paradox of humanity’s “impulse to ask ultimate questions and the impossibility of achieving any adequate answer” is what Camus calls “the absurd” (Aronson). As a result of this bizarre position, the human comes to feel “weariness, anxiety, strangeness, nausea, and horror in the face of one’s mortality” (Pölzler). What is one to do in this illogical predicament? Camus declares there are three options: suicide, hope, or revolt. Immediate escape from this paradox in the form of suicide is at least understandable. Hope or taking a “leap” is simply delaying the inevitable, in that the human seeks rational meaning in God or some transcendence but will ultimately never secure it (Camus 43). The third option encapsulates the heart of absurdism. Revolt is to accept the meaninglessness. Revolt is 

to work and create 'for nothing', to sculpture in clay, to know that one's creation has no future, to see one's work destroyed in a day while being aware that, fundamentally, this has no more importance than building for centuries - this is the difficult wisdom that absurd thought sanctions” (103). 

Much like Sisyphus pushing a rock uphill, to have that effort support nothing, and to perform the task again, happily, is to live the absurd; to be present and live despite meaninglessness. The 1986 film entitled The Mission features hallmarks of Camus’ absurdist philsophy.

The Mission is a historically factual movie occuring in the 1750s near modern-day Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. It follows the fate of a Jesuit priest named Father Gabriel who climbs Iguazu Falls to convert the Guarani to Christianity after they tie a Jesuit missionary to a wooden cross and send him down the falls, to his death. While working with the Guarani, Father Gabriel encounters a Spanish mercenary named Rodrigo Mendoza, who enslaved and murdered many Guarani. Mendoza descends the falls with many slaves. Upon returning to the city, his fiancé, Carlotta, breaks off their engagement in order to be with Mendoza’s brother. After catching his brother and former fiancé in bed, Mendoza kills his brother in a jealous outrage. Starving himself out of depression, Mendoza is convinced by Father Gabriel to join him as a form of penance. Mendoza climbs the falls and begins working to establish the mission. The mission becomes successful in a peaceful Guarani community. However, the Treaty of Madrid is signed, which demands that the Spanish crown take control of the mission’s land. The mission faces two options: leave the land or fight the Spanish army. Father Gabriel believes fighting goes against the principles of Christianity and decides to remain peaceful, even if it means death Mendoza fights. They both die along with many others and the surviving Guarani children escape into the jungles while their parents are enslaved.

Two main illustrations of absurdism in The Mission are: first, the nature of the Jesuits’ work “for nothing,” and second, the “strangeness” the Guarani king experiences when he realizes God had changed his mind and he wonders if the Jesuits are the people who they claim to be (Camus 103, 20).

No part of the movie better exemplifies the nature of absurdism than when Mendoza takes his vows to become a Jesuit. He explicitly promises “to labor and not count the cost and serve with no reward save the doing of [God’s] will” (The Mission 0:49:03- 0:51:00). While Mendoza may seemingly be taking a leap of faith, he is nonetheless conscious that he will work and create with no expectation of remuneration. To quote Camus again, “to work and create 'for nothing' … to know that one's creation has no future, to see one's work destroyed in a day while being aware that” (Camus 103). Ultimately, the work of the Jesuits amounts to nothing. All their labor and service and even their lives are destroyed in a day. After being shot multiple times, Mendoza, in a final effort to seek meaning or even witness a miracle, struggles to remain alive to witness the fate of Father Gabriel. But even the devout Father, along with dozens of Guarani are mowed down by musket fire (1:55:19-1:56:45). One can’t help but wonder if this image of Mendoza dying is what Kirilov imagined when Christ entered paradise realizing he died for a “falsehood” (Camus 98).

The other illustration of the absurd is when the Catholic Cardinal Altamirano, who is deciding the fate of the mission, must adhere to the Treaty of Madrid and informs the Guarani they must abandon the mission. In an intense exchange between the cardinal and the Guarani king, the king explains how the Jesuits taught his people it was God’s will they establish a mission, and now that God is telling them to leave, he does not understand - this makes no sense to the king. He says, “it was the will of God that they came out of the jungle and built the mission” and that they don’t understand why God has changed his mind and that ultimately, they were wrong to trust the church (The Mission 1:20:56-1:25:00). God’s rationale is odd to the Guarani and thus is indicative of someone experiencing the early stages of the absurd – grasping “that strangeness of the world” (Camus 20).

In conclusion, while we may never know the true intentions and conscious choices of Father Gabrial and Mendoza, we can observe absurdism illustrated in the film The Mission. From the concept of men working consciously knowing their labors could be and are fruitless, to the king’s moment of realization of the strangeness of the world, The Mission demonstrates what living an existentially absurd life may look like: living a life of “higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks” or in other words, to revolt against the absurd and live in a meaningless universe (Camus 111). 

Works Cited

Aronson, Ronald. “Albert Camus.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2011,

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. 1955. Translated by Justin O’Brien, Penguin Books, 1979.

Pölzler, Thomas. "Camus’ Feeling of the Absurd." Journal of Value Inquiry, vol. 52, no. 4, 2018, pp. 477-490. ProQuest,, doi:

The Mission. Directed by Roland Joffé, Columbia-Cannon-Warner Distributors, 1986.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Phil 416 - Hegel’s Master-Slave Dialectic in Psychotherapy

Hegel’s Master-Slave Dialectic in Psychotherapy

Hegel’s three-part, recursive dialectical process provides a framework for explaining the reality of many things. One specific application called, the “master-slave dialectic” elaborates on the individual’s “development of self-consciousness” in terms of desire, recognition and alienation (GIVENS and NUMBERS 200). While this dialectic process may be applied and have practical use in a client-therapist setting, in some cases of therapy it may not be practical given that some psychoanalytic work is not linear and in fact the dialectical process expends more effort for smaller returns (Kronemyer).

The dialectic process is a dialogue or discussion of ideas, between people or even within oneself, which volleys back and forth, and pivots into additional ideas after which the process repeats with subsequent ideas. In each cycle, the first step in the discussion is a proposal or an idea. This introductory idea may be called the thesis or “the moment of the understanding” (Maybee). Following the thesis, the dialogue is met with a reactionary, opposing idea, in which the principal idea is negated. This reaction could be called the antithesis or the “negatively rational moment” (Maybee). However, this second movement does not entirely negate the first, rather it sublates it, which means it “both cancels and preserves” and pushes toward the third moment (Maybee). This third moment is “speculative or positively rational” in which it secures “the unity of the opposition” of the first and second moments and can be termed the synthesis (Maybee). Hegel’s dialectic is usually applied in areas which pertain to the individual or in social environments. One specific example is Hegel’s master-slave dialectic and its application to psychotherapy.

In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the dialectic is used to explain an individual’s “development of self-consciousness” through the ideas of desire and recognition which is “also termed the master-slave dialectic” (GIVENS and NUMBERS 200). In this dialectic, the thesis is desire, as an individual eats and drinks to survive and, in general, yearns for “fulfillment and growth” (200). While pursuing this desire, the individual is confronted by other individuals who also desire the same things, and in this meeting, the individuals seek “interpersonal acknowledgement” and “recognition” (200). The antithesis of desire is recognition, in which the individual moves from self-sustainment “to a struggle to the death for recognition” (205). This conflict metaphorically reaches a pitched battle in which life is risked and one party yields and the other “emerges as the victor” (206). The yielding individual accepts the role of “slave” in order to survive and the victor assumes the role of “master” and “wields power over the slave” (206). Lastly, the synthesis of desire and recognition for the slave evolves into alienation, where the slave is estranged from freedom, and works for the master. Yet in this alienation, the slave “through labor, attains freedom, self-awareness, and the power to transform the natural world” (208).

Practical application of psychotherapy via the master-slave dialectic can be used in each phase of the evolution. One specific application in psychotherapy occurs viz-a-viz recognition and alienation, in which the client suffers “anger, frustration, and self-loathing” in an effort to “obtain recognition from” the therapist (211). While the therapist may be viewed as assuming the role of master, she nevertheless “resists the role” and instead seeks to facilitate the process wherein the client reaches escape velocity and is able to break free of alienation (211). In the client-therapist relationship, the client receives the recognition he desires “without punishment” from the masters of modern society such as “schools, prisons, hospitals, clinics” and “anonymous organizational structures” such as corporations (209, 211). Through recognition the client transforms himself and no longer feels alienated but adapts and discovers new freedoms. This rudimentary example indeed demonstrates the applicability of Hegel’s dialectic to explain some reality in the arena of psychotherapy, however, others disagree that it can be utilized to explain reality, even in this field.

David Kronemyer, who works in the Department of Psychiatry at ULCA noted in a letter to the editor of The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry that Hegel’s dialectic “has proliferated to numerous other contexts, many involving psychiatry; for example, the migration from psychoanalysis to behaviorism to cognitive therapy” (Kronemyer). But at a lower, practical level Kronemyer does not view the dialectic as applicable. For example, while validation of the client may be viewed as the thesis, and the antithesis may be understood as change, he contends “the process of therapy is evolutionary—a ‘random walk’ incorporating (nonexclusively) flexible thinking, adaptive behavior, and emotional awareness” (Kronemyer). In other words, successful therapy often does not always follow the Hegelian dialectic process and is much more haphazard than iterative. And to underscore his point even further, Kronemyer summarizes, “Holding two opposing thoughts in your mind at the same time is far more effortful than holding two complementary ones. Clinicians should divest themselves of the concept of ‘dialectic’ and focus instead on emotional regulation” (Kronemyer).

In conclusion, Hegel’s iterative dialectic process provides a structure for exploring the reality of things. The “master-slave dialectic” is one particular avenue to apply the dialectic especially in the arena of the maturation of the individual’s self-consciousness. The ideas of desire, recognition and alienation provide a construct for the client and therapist to successfully help the client evolve and develop his self-consciousness. While this dialectic method can be applied practically in psychotherapy, other experts in the field do not think it is as applicable, given that psychoanalytic work is not linear. Indeed, the dialectic may lead the client and therapists down paths that ultimately do not address the root of emotional disturbances. 

Works Cited

GIVENS, JOEL, and MEGAN NUMBERS. “Of Human Bondage: The Relevance of Hegel’s Dialectic of Desire and Recognition for Humanistic Counselors.” The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, vol. 55, no. 3, Oct. 2016, pp. 200–14, Accessed 3 Oct. 2019.

Kronemyer, David. “Just What Is ‘Dialectical’ about Dialectical Behavior Therapy?” The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, vol. 78, no. 3, Mar. 2017, pp. e310–10, Accessed 1 May 2019.

Maybee, Julie E. “Hegel’s Dialectics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 2016,

Friday, March 3, 2023

Phil 405 term paper - The Consolation of Stoic Optimism

The Consolation of Stoic Optimism

    A sudden or expected death of a loved one, war, terror attacks, physical assaults, and violent car accidents are types of shocking events which confront individuals at least once in their lifetime (Bonanno, 20). Stoic metaphysics embraces an optimistic view that all events, including the ones listed, will ultimately work out well. However, one of the most prolific modern academics of Stoicism, wondered if this is a problem with the philosophy. After detailing Stoic metaphysics, including the properties of Nature, pneuma, and the philosophy’s optimistic view on providential determinism, A.A. Long mentions “one of the least palatable” characteristics of the philosophy: “trust” in Nature that all is well (170). He goes on to observe the “chilling and insensitive” attitudes of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius which embrace a “faith that all will turn out well in the end” (170). Does a belief in Nature, fate, and that all events will ultimately unfold well help the individual secure a eudaimonic life? Or is this belief inconsiderate and does it minimize the emotions one feels as a result of his fate? With the right perspective, beliefs and attitude, one can achieve a flourishing life regardless of circumstances without necessarily minimizing one’s emotions.

    If one embraces Stoicism’s metaphysical framework, beginning with the concept of pneuma pervading everything through the forces of unity, life, movement and rationality, which logically leads to the idea of Nature or God as one whole, then one can rationally conclude a deterministic fate, in which humans participate in the fate of the Cosmos. Furthermore, despite a deterministic view, at least one research paper offers some evidence that a disbelief in free will can lead to moral behavior and empathy, thus countering the lazy argument (Caspar). One modern day psychologist bolsters this view with arguments from Spinoza and Joseph Wolpe. Therefore, taken as a whole belief system, assuming an optimistic perspective about conjoined fated actions and determinism, humans can flourish and be resilient (live an excellent life) regardless of circumstances and they can even experience a flowing self-determination in the face of any adversity, including death, loss and violent events. Indeed, this has been confirmed by some modern research. Because of their optimism, humans mostly exhibit resilience (Bonanno and Zimmerman). The entire argument, from metaphysical beliefs to determinism, to conjoined fated actions, to obtaining eudaimonia leads to the promise Epictetus gave his students: “[securing a] desire that never fails in its aim, aversion that never falls into what it wants to avoid, motivation that accords with one’s duty, purpose that is carefully weighed, and assent that is not over-hasty” (Discourses 2.8).

    At the very core of Stoic metaphysics is the substance pneuma. In brief, it simply and literally means wind or breath (Liddell and Scott). Long uses various phrases which expand on the literal definition, by describing pneuma as “fiery breath”, “artistic fire”, “the active principle”, “vital spirit … hot breath … vehicle of the logos”, “force or energy”, “‘field of force’ activating matter” and “intelligent director of everything” (150-164). John Sellars defines pneuma as “identified with God and reason” and “a conscious and rational organizing principle” and as “the soul of the cosmos” (97).  He cites Aetius who described God as “creative fire (pur technikon)” and Stobaeus who called it the force “causing growth and preservation” (98-99). Implicit in these descriptions is movement and action.

    Pneuma is in “perpetual motion” and therefore is the cause of other movements in the cosmos (Sambursky 21). Furthermore, this motion not only exists in bodies, but is also the framework for how the cosmos operates.  The motion is like that of waves or ripples after a pebble is tossed into still water. Quoting Stobaios, Sambursky writes, “It begins in the centre of the body and extends outwards to its boundaries, and after touching the outermost surface it turns back till it arrives at the same place from which it started” (31).

    Besides being in perpetual motion, pneuma is considered the active element and mixes with passive elements (fire, air, water, earth) and binds itself to them causing bodies to exist. Pneuma may be mixed with elements to three varying degrees. First is mingling which could be described as a “mechanical mixture” like that of a mosaic, second is fusion, which mixture causes “a new substance,” and third, “complete interpenetration” in which all parts are “jointly occupied by all the components in the same proportion” (Sambursky 12-13). Additionally, depending on the extent to which pneuma is mixed with passive elements will determine how alive an object is and if it has a soul or not (Sellars91). In sum, the extent of pneuma in passive elements determines if an object has simple forces of unity, or is living, or has movement or possesses rationality.

    Given that pneuma is in constant motion, mixes with passive elements, and is the cause of tension and the coherence of everything, the cosmos is one unified whole. Like the glove and hand analogy, whereby the glove would represent the passive elements, and the hand would represent the active force, the cosmos is set in motion and is active by virtue of pneuma. Sambursky succinctly summarizes this idea and notes how the cosmos is one whole because Nature is unbroken in time and space.  Referring to pneuma, he wrote, “It was divine power (viz. Force) impressing a definite state upon matter on the one hand, and causal nexus linking the successive states of matter on the other, and in both these aspects it revealed itself as a spatially and temporally continuous agent” (Sambursky 37). Given their view that the cosmos is one “agent,” the Stoics believed that fate was tied up with Nature - a topic on which Chrysippus had a few things to say.

    Regarding fate, Chrysippus aligns with Zeno’s position, Zeno being the founder of Stoicism.  In some fragments which remain of his writings, we learn Zeno said, “fate is the chainlike cause of existing things or the reason in accordance with which they are ordered … [and is] the moving power of matter according to identical rules and in the same way and it does not differ from providence and nature” (Gould 142). Chrysippus reaffirms Zeno’s stance by calling fate “a certain natural order of all things, following closely upon one another and moved in succession from eternity, and their intertwining with one another is unalterable” (143). Rival philosophical schools attacked Chrysippus’ views on fate arguing that free will was removed and that since fate has been decided, human agency becomes irrelevant (i.e., the lazy argument). In response, Chrysippus would refine his argument with the ideas of “proximate” and “perfect” causes along with the idea that certain things are “in our power” and others are not (149).

    A proximate cause might be the proposition of eating a large unhealthy meal or committing adultery, but the perfect cause would be the individual assenting to the proposition, or not. Chrysippus would expound on this idea with the cylinder analogy. A cylinder may be sitting on a slope and the “initial force” to start the rolling process would be the proximate cause (i.e., the proposition of an unhealthy dinner or the opportunity at committing adultery in the previous example) (149). But “the cylinder’s own form” would be accountable for the ongoing movement down the slope, which would represent the proximate cause (i.e., assenting or not to eating the unhealthy dinner or committing adultery in the previous example) (150). Sellars makes this distinction even clearer by explaining Chrysippus’ ideas on “simple fated things and conjoined fated things” and by providing an example of a mortal being (Sellars 103). He writes that while “Socrates will die” is a “simple fated thing” it is not certain that “Socrates will die this afternoon” because he will opt to visit a doctor and therefore his actual chance of survival is termed his “cojoined fate” since Socrates has some choice in the matter (104). While Chrysippus did much to bolster his views to counter the lazy argument response on fate, modern research also provides a few other reasons which counter the lazy argument on determinism and fate.

    One research study investigated the relationship between people’s belief or disbelief in free will and how their moral actions aligned with those beliefs. In this study, the researchers instructed all participants to complete various questionnaires to determine where their beliefs resided on a scale of belief in free will, determinism and fate. When the participants arrived at the lab, two large groups were formed: the Control group and the No Free will group. In the Control group, participants read a passage from a book which explained how “psychologists tried to develop a method to assess consciousness” while the No Free Will group read a passage from the same book about how “human behavior is totally determined by genetics” (Caspar, et. al. 3). They were then placed in groupings of three individuals in a room: one as “agent,” one as “victim,” and one as “experimenter” (3). The selection of the roles was random, and all participants eventually played one of the three roles. In every situation, the agent was given money if the agent delivered a painful shock to the victim, but if they did not deliver the shock, no money was given. In these sub-groupings, there were two conditions the agent was presented with: the free-choice condition, in which the agent was totally free to give the shock or not, and the coercive condition in which the experimenter told the agent to give the shock, in which case the agent could decide to give the shock or not.

    The results of this experiment indicate “the No Free will group inflicted fewer shocks in the free-choice condition than participants in the Control group” (6-7). While gender does seem to play a factor, the results still indicate that when given a free choice, participants who believed they had no choice in fact demonstrated greater prosocial or moral behaviors. The study further noted that “the reduction of immoral behavior in the no free will group for female participants stems from the induced beliefs” as opposed to their “core beliefs” (7). Additional conclusions from the study show that vengeful behavior was also reduced in the same No Free will group, “and that the higher female participants scored on free will, the more vindictive they were” (7). In sum, this research study reveals that a disbelief in free will does not necessarily lead to one adhering to lazy argument thinking, but it also reveals deterministic thinking can even lead to higher prosocial thinking and behavior.

    If one believes that much of their life and circumstances are determined by things beyond their control, then perhaps they will focus their efforts on empathy and improving societal and environmental conditions which promote improved moral behaviors, rather than seeking to instill punitive forms of persuasion. Indeed, it seems deterministic thinking can cause one to have more compassion and understanding. Donald Robertson, a modern-day psychologist, observed the connection between determinism and empathy by drawing parallels in the ideas of Spinoza and a 20th century psychiatrist named Joseph Wolpe. He noted that to understand the world rationally “is to do so by reference to … the essential idea of Nature itself.” He then quotes Spinoza, whose metaphysical beliefs are similar to the Stoics: “we can desire nothing save that which is necessary, nor can we absolutely be contented with anything save what is true: and therefore insofar as we understand this rightly, the endeavour of the best part of us is in harmony with the order of the whole of nature” (Robertson).

Robertson then notes the relationship between determinism and living in harmony with Nature, to the ideas of the psychiatrist Wolpe, who said this of determinism and empathy:

Objectivity, empathy, and sensitivity to suffering are intrinsic to the behaviour therapist’s approach to his patients. The objectivity follows from the knowledge that all behaviour, including cognitive behaviour, is subject to causal determination no less than is the behaviour of falling bodies or magnetic fields. […] To explain how the patient’s neurosis arose out of a combination or chain of particular events helps [empathic] understanding (Robertson).

The point to this long thread about determinism and empathy is to counter the idea which Long calls “chilling and insensitive” about the idea that “all will turn out well in the end” (170). Taking an optimistic perspective is not disturbing and inconsiderate, but rather it is a rational way for the individual to arrive at acceptance of events as they are and empathic understanding for himself and humanity.

    Furthermore, this thread of thought on determinism and empathy ought to inform the individual to not only validate his own emotions and those of others when they perceive that much is beyond their control - that these perceptions don’t have to be distressing and indifferent -but that we can experience greater and deeper understanding of our shared human experiences and help others see the higher fidelity of existence. The higher fidelity in thinking and perception allows us to truly grasp and comprehend what is up to us, and in that space, we can adjust our attitude towards an optimistic perspective which will lead to resilience in the face of adversity. In fact, resilience seems to be the default human reaction to adversity.

    Humans are a tough and resilient species. One study of 67 potentially traumatic events, such as “mass shootings, hurricanes, spinal cord injuries,” observed that two-thirds resiliently recover from the event (Zimmerman). The article which references this study concludes by noting what psychologists have observed in people who are resilient and flourish in virtually any circumstance: they have a “positive, realistic outlook … [and] look for opportunities in bleak situations, striving to find the positive within the negatives” (Zimmerman). A professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University’s Teachers College, George Bonanno, conducted this research on human resilience in the face of traumatic events, and observed “multiple pathways to resilience” (25). Of note are his findings which align with the optimistic perspective on Stoic determinism. He noted that “hardiness” which includes commitment “to finding meaningful purpose in life” and “that one can learn and grow from both positive and negative life experiences” are hallmarks in those who demonstrate resilience to adverse events (25). These traits align with the Stoic perspective that all events and circumstances can work out for the best. And closely related to this optimistic view, Bonanno further observes, are those responses of “positive emotion and laughter” which have the effect of “quieting or undoing a negative emotion” after an “aversive event” (26).

    To tie all these threads together, the idea that ultimately all works out well (Stoic optimism), not only embraces determinism, but also reminds the individual of what is up to him, namely, his attitude and the ability to grasp the reality of his situation. This higher fidelity in thinking allows him the space to be more empathic with his own situation and that of others. This empathy can counteract the “chilling and insensitive” perspective Long mentions (170). Furthermore, this cognitive space empowers the individual to breed a growth and learning mindset regarding all events in his life, including traumatic events. This optimism, in the form of seeking meaning and purpose, along with the optimistic characteristics of “positive emotion and laughter” can equip the individual to resiliently endure most events in his life (Bonanno 26). Being psychologically prepared and equipped with this mentality, the individual thus gains confidence in his pursuit of leading a fulfilling and flourishing life – he knows when tough times come, these events will provide meaning and opportunity for him to practice excellence in living.

    In conclusion, the entire argument, from metaphysical beliefs to determinism, to conjoined fated actions, to securing eudaimonia leads to the promise Epictetus gave his students: “[securing a] desire that never fails in its aim, aversion that never falls into what it wants to avoid, motivation that accords with one’s duty, purpose that is carefully weighed, and assent that is not over-hasty” (Discourses 2.8). This mindset is not disturbing nor callous, but rather optimistically equips the individual to be psychologically and emotionally durable and possess the confidence to face any adversity. Not only can one wisely respond to any desire, aversion, or event in his life, but he can also feel confidence and gratitude in his mental paradigm. Lastly, Marcus Aurelius compares this robust self-determination to that of ocean waves colliding against the cropping of rocks.

Be like the rocky headland on which the waves constantly break. It stands firm, and round it the seething waters are laid to rest. 'It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.' No, you should rather say: 'It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.' Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain (Meditations Book 4, chapter 49).

Works Cited

Bonanno, George A. "Loss, Trauma, and Human Resilience: Have we Underestimated the Human Capacity to Thrive After Extremely Aversive Events?" American Psychologist, vol. 59, no. 1, 2004, pp. 20-28. ProQuest,, doi:

Caspar, Emilie A., et al. “The Influence of (Dis)Belief in Free Will on Immoral Behavior.” Frontiers in Psychology, no. 8 20, 17 Jan. 2017, 

Epictetus, et al. Discourses, Fragments, Handbook. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Gould, J B. The Philosophy of Chrysippus. 1970. Netherlands, Brill Academic Pub, 1971.

Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott. “Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, a Greek-English Lexicon, πνεῦμα.”, 1940, Accessed 12 Feb. 2023.

Long, A. A. Hellenistic Philosophy : Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics. University Of California Press, 1986.

Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, et al. Meditations. Penguin Classics, An Imprint Of Penguin Books, 2014.

Robertson, Donald J. “Spinoza’s Philosophical Psychotherapy.” Stoicism — Philosophy as a Way of Life, 26 Sept. 2019, Accessed 18 Feb. 2023.

Sellars, John. Stoicism. Routledge, 2014.

Zimmerman, Eilene. What Makes Some People More Resilient Than Others: RESILIENCE. ProQuest, Jun 18, 2020,

Sunday, January 8, 2023

To Exist is to Think

Writing prompt: 

What ought to come first in a robust philosophical project? Is there any point in seeking out knowledge of being if we do not even understand how the mind works, what constitutes knowledge, and so forth? Conversely, is there any point in seeking to understand knowledge if we lack any robust conception of reality, and the things that are there to be known? Defend your position.


Reading the assignment this week, I came across this passage which struck me profoundly. "The only alternative to Parmenides’ insight that 'the same is for thinking and for being,' the insight which is metaphysics, is the postmodern and nihilistic notion that reality itself is a construct, a myth, an illusion, that there is no such thing as reality" (Perl, 15).  To not-be is also to not-think; to be nihilistic.  The consideration and study of being ought to be very tightly coupled with thinking.  If forced to say which ought to come first, I would say ontology.

On this topic, I think Camus brutally succinct, when he wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus, "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest—whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories—comes afterwards."

Stated differently, there is a point to studying ontology if you decide life (being) is worth keeping and enduring.  If not, and suicide (i.e. choosing to not-be) is the answer, then seeking to learn and comprehend knowledge would be irrelevant.

But if one decides to continue his or hers existence, then the project of studying ontology, even if we do not, nor cannot, fully comprehend it, is worth the effort.  Perhaps after some time pursuing the study, you may come to decide why it is better to not exist than to exist. To use an analogy: you are to begin a new job (assume it is relatively basic). It would be rational to understand why the job exists at all, so that you understand the objective of your job. And while you begin your job and learn your job (epistemology), you may come to either agree or disagree as to the purpose of the job you are fulfilling. From there, you may decide to alter the objective of the job you've been given or give it up altogether.

In sum, while the priority may seem that being comes first, learning and gaining knowledge is tightly coupled with the studying of existence. Perl makes this observation in his introduction when he notes several "classical tradition" examples of analogies which compare being and thinking to an "erotic" union (10). 

Work cited

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. Vintage Books, 2018.

Perl, Eric. Thinking Being: Introduction to Metaphysics in the Classical Tradition. BRILL, 6 Feb. 2014.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Stoic Optimism on Fate

I'm a mentor for students taking the Stoic Essentials Studies course at the College of Stoic Philosophers.  Because this question keeps coming up with nearly all my students, I decided to capture my thoughts on this topic.

At some point, whether at the beginning of the course or some time during it, a student will express some version of this concern regarding the Stoic view on fate: it's hard to believe that everything happens for a reason.

Every time a student shares this concern, I share what A. A. Long wrote on the subject along with my perspective.

Long, who has perhaps studied Stoicism longer than anyone alive today, makes this observation:

"If Nature's providence is all-embracing then any event which causes injury or suffering has to be interpreted as something which, if all the facts were known, would be recognized as beneficial by rational men. As Pope, following Shaftesbury, wrote: 'All discord, harmony not understood, all partial evil, universal good.' But all the facts cannot be known and therefore the supposed value of much that happens must be taken on trust. This optimistic attitude towards natural events, no matter how terrible they may seem, is one of the least palatable features of Stoicism. It is one thing to say that human vision is limited, unable to grasp the full cosmic perspective. But even at its noblest, in the writings of Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius, there is something chilling and insensitive about the Stoic's faith that all will turn out well in the end. They were the only Greek philosophers who tried to find a rationale for everything within their concept of a perfect, all-embracing Nature" (170, emphasis added).

I don't have an answer for people who express this concern, as this aspect of Stoicism weighs on my mind too.  The way I choose to look at fate is this: it is what it is and the sooner I can accept events as they are, the sooner I can pivot to focus on how I choose to react and move forward.  Perhaps the Stoics belief in 'all will turn out well' is just a short cut to get to acceptance.

Work cited

Long, A. A. Hellenistic Philosophy : Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics. University Of California Press, 1986.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Phil 415 - Stoic Threads in Hobbesian Philosophy

 Stoic Threads in Hobbesian Philosophy

On November 28, 2022, the world’s largest active volcano erupted for the first time in almost 40 years (Derrick). As the world witnessed the hot, fiery lava spew out and flow down the mountain, it was reminded, albeit on a small scale, that the universe loves to change and be in constant motion. One can’t help but observe in awe the hot lava settling and pondering how long it will take for the first biological life to emerge once the lava cools, decomposes and becomes the rich soil in which life will grow. While this fiery substance proves to be a key ingredient for life, the Stoics and Hobbes theorized on another substance which is the cause in all motion in the universe, including human passions: the substance of God.

Hobbes’s ideas on the materialism of God and the passions have their roots in Stoicism. While the Stoics viewed pneuma as the essence of God and motion in all bodies, Hobbes conceived God as “subtle fluid or spirit” (Gorham, 38). As God is the source of existence, things remain in motion by self-perpetuation. Both Hobbes and the Stoics claim oikeiosis, or self-preservation as the prime mover of people and that it is inherent in all living things. Yet, if this impulse for self-preservation is left unchecked by reason, it leads to unbridled passions (Santi, 67). As to how reason should be applied to rein in passions, Hobbes’s and the Stoics’ views part ways and diverge widely. Whereas the Stoics would teach the individual to be rational and to perhaps stamp out passions, Hobbes sees passions playing a pivotal role prior to the formation of the State and then having the absolute ruler manage people’s passions via an “enlightened sovereign” (71). One might say the Stoics prefer a bottom-up approach to dealing with passions while Hobbes would be a top-down approach (i.e., the Leviathan). Regardless of which paradigm for passion management is used, all lives begin with motion. Hobbes’s own inception of motion begins with fear. 

The Spanish Armada appeared over the horizon off the English coast – war! Close to 130 ships attacked England between July 31 and August 4, 1588 (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). The sight of the armada must have instilled fear in many as it was “an awesome spectacle to behold … [each ship] with lofty turrets like castles” (Hanson). Leading up to the clash, the people of England were in the grips of terror, including Thomas Hobbes’s mother.  Hobbes wrote, “rumor went everywhere through our towns that the last day for the nation was coming by fleet. And at that point, my mother was filled with such fear that she bore twins, me and together with me fear” (Martinich, 2). Hobbes and his “twin” were born April 5, 1588 – close to 4 months before the armada was to be seen off the coast of Plymouth. Hobbes would smartly observe of his birth, that the harrowing circumstances would affect him throughout life and would explain his “hatred for the enemies of [his] country” (2). The cause of the Spanish armada sailing to England is a complicated web of multiple causes and effects and lots of motion, both actual and political.

As with many philosophers of his day, Hobbes would have been familiar with multiple ancient and contemporary theories as to the ultimate cause of all motion. Most of these theories go on to attribute some force - calling it God - as the source cause of all motion. Among the many philosophies with which Hobbes was familiar was that of the Stoics and their theories on metaphysics. The Stoics noted both active and passive elements in the universe. The active was associated with the “rational principle (logos)” and they called this “God and Mind and Fate and Zeus” (Gorham, 37). More specifically, the Stoics called the essence of the substance of God pneuma and they likened it to “sperm or seed which contains the first principles or directions of all the things” (Baltzly). Hobbes, who would have encountered many Stoic ideas via his time tutoring and working with the Cavendishes, conceived the essence of God “as an infinitely subtle fluid or ‘spirit’ … [which is] ‘thin, fluid, transparent, invisible body” (Gorham, 38-39, 44). To remove all doubt as to his possible source of his ideas of the essence of God, he also wrote that his definition of “spirit” means “breadth, air, wind” in Latin and pneuma in Greek (39). If Hobbes’s spirit of God and the Stoics’ pneuma are the primal cause of existence, what is the next chain in the grand causal effect? Both Hobbes and the Stoics align on “the doctrine of oikeiosis … the principle of self-preservation” as the explanation of the cosmos’s perpetual motion (Santi, 67).

 In his article, Psychology and Politics: Hobbes, Chrysippus the Stoic and the Passions, Santi quotes Diogenes Laertius, who wrote that a “living being has, as first impulse, that of conserving itself … [pushing] away what is harmful … and [getting] near to what is proper as well as familiar” (67). In the same article, he quotes Hobbes: “necessity of nature makes men to will and desire bonum sibi, that which is good for themselves, and to avoid that which is hurtful” (67). This impulse to survive is the cause of many actions and movements in the universe, which sustain life and cause change. Is it any wonder, then, when an individual, or a family face dire circumstance, or even perceived threats to their survival, that they begin to take action to ensure their existence? This type of thinking is precisely at the root of the cause and effect of the English Civil War.

As with the invasion of the Spanish Armada, the causes of the English Civil war were complex and tangled. But the fundamental cause of grievances between the English monarchy and the English parliament was about money and the viability of citizens’ existence. While the monarchy wanted to raise funds to support its lifestyle or even start a “war against Scotland,” the “majority of members” of parliament wanted to address and manage their “grievances about ship money, forced loans, coat and conduct money” – things which they had been complaining about for more than a decade (Martinich, 122). Even though Hobbes’s livelihood would not be greatly impacted by demands from the king, he had written things in “defense of absolute sovereignty” and he had seen other people, who were in favor of an “absolute monarch,” be charged and arrested by Parliament (161). When Hobbes witnessed “the king’s chief ministers” as well as “the king’s chief counselor and the highest-ranking clergymen” being charged and arrested, he knew “Parliament wasn’t [acting] logical” and in a matter of days, he made arrangements to flee to France and then left in such a hurry, “he did not even wait for his luggage to be packed” (161-162).

While historians may debate as to whether Parliament, the monarchy or even Hobbes were acting logically or not, it does not take much imagination to see how an impulse to survive can be taken to an extreme. Returning to Santi, he makes the connection between the impulse for self-preservation and passion. Quoting Chrysippus the Stoic, he writes, “an impulse can also be rational, following right reason, but in the majority of people it is irrational and ‘contrary to nature’: it is ‘an excessive impulse’ that originates the passions” (68). Similarly, Hobbes agrees that passions are based on “memories of the past” or “expectations of the future” and that these passions “originate, in the mind” (68). Alas, this is where Hobbes and the Stoics cease in agreement, and subsequently depart into different directions regarding the management of passions.

Without getting into the full explanation of the Stoic theory of passions, the Stoics believe that passion is something the sage would never experience, since the Stoic sage would not have any “false beliefs about what is good and bad” (Brennan, 38). In other words, a practicing Stoic would not hold the belief that desire for money, or the fear of pain is either good or bad. If applied to Hobbes when he faced the threat of arrest from Parliament, instead of fleeing to France, perhaps he would have remained to perform his duties in England.

While the Stoics would recommend the individual work to hold correct beliefs about the world and to rationally control passions, Hobbes views passions as a force to be joined with reason in a “positive alliance” (Santi, 69). The key aspect of his idea is the “contrast between what drives conflict and what allows cooperative endeavor, rather than any quasi-Stoic view about how reason can overcome the passions” (Schmitter). Hobbes writes that “competition of riches, honour, command, or other power, inclines to contention, enmity, and war” but he also holds that “desire of ease, and sensual delight” along with the desires for learning and a “love of the arts” and fame, cause “men to obey a common power” (Santi, 69). He sees passion as the driving force both leading up to the creation and the sustaining of the State. For him, the telos of humankind is to live in a state of obedience to an ultimate sovereign who would preserve their security and ensure their passions are satisfied rationally (69-70). In fact, in his Leviathan, he “hopes that his theoretic principles will be embraced by an enlightened sovereign” who also is “the only legitimate moral philosopher … be it a king or an assembly” (71). If any additional nails are needed to close the coffin on an endorsement of a personal philosophy, as opposed to a State philsophy, Santi notes that Hobbes thought the “ancient philosophers were wrong and presumptuous in proposing their personal philosophic view as the true way of living” (71). For Hobbes, “the laws of the commonwealth … are the ground and measure of all true morality” (71).

In his masterpiece, Leviathan, in the first part of On Man, he gloomily described the human life as “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes, 102). But as one reflects on Hobbes’s life, one comes to find the countless people with whom he worked – he was never alone.  One learns he was well compensated and connected to powerful people – he was never poor.  One further learns that his life was most assuredly not short – he died at age 91 on December 4, 1679. But as for life being brutish, perhaps he was correct. Because of the perpetual motion of unreasonable passions, he felt the effects of foreign powers at home and abroad, he witnessed a civil war in his homeland and “lived in a time of upheaval, sharper than any England has since known” - in a time of great division amongst the government, religions, militaries and economies (Williams). Given this “brutish” context, it is no wonder Hobbes advocated for a Leviathan to rule over people who could not rule themselves.

In conclusion, a few key threads in Hobbes’s philosophy can be traced back to Stoicism – namely his ideas on God and human passions. The Stoics and Hobbes identified fine, pervasive substance as the essence of God. This essence, in turn is the catalyst for self-preservation, which they both indicate as the prime mover of people and that it is inherent in all living things. Both agree that unchecked self-preservation can lead to passions. However, Hobbes and the Stoics part ways as to how the passions ought to be managed. The Stoics advocate for individuals to be rational and to perhaps eradicate passions, but Hobbes sees passions performing a crucial role prior to the formation of the State. The State then rules over her subjects and manages people’s passions via an “enlightened sovereign” (Santi, 71).  In sum, the individual lives for the State, and the State is “the ground and measure of all true morality” (71). 

Works Cited

Baltzly, Dirk. “Stoicism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Spring 2019, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2019,

Brennan, Tad. The Stoic Life : Emotions, Duties, and Fate. Oxford Oxford University Press, 2005.

Derrick, Bryson T., and Oliver Whang. Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii Erupts for the First Time in Nearly 40 Years. ProQuest, Nov 28, 2022,

Gorham, Geoffrey. "Mixing Bodily Fluids: Hobbes's Stoic God." Sophia, vol. 53, no. 1, 2014, pp. 33-49. ProQuest,, doi:

Hanson, Neil. The Confident Hope of a Miracle. Vintage, 2007.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan, edited by Karl Schuhmann, and G. A. J. Rogers, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Martinich, A. P. Hobbes : A Biography. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Santi, Raffaella. "PSYCHOLOGY AND POLITICS: HOBBES, CHRYSIPPUS THE STOIC AND THE PASSIONS." Agathos, vol. 8, no. 2, 2017, pp. 57-73. ProQuest,

Schmitter, Amy M. “17th and 18th Century Theories of Emotions > Hobbes on the Emotions (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 2021,

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Spanish Armada | Definition, Defeat, & Facts.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 14 June 2017,

Williams, Garrath. “Hobbes, Thomas: Moral and Political Philosophy | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Phil 415 - Baruch Spinoza: Plunging into the Cosmos

Baruch Spinoza: Plunging into the Cosmos

Seeing clearly and comprehending reality correctly is critical for ensuring one’s actions are appropriate. A humorous Sears Optical commercial demonstrated this point by showing a woman letting a racoon into her home, thinking it was her cat. The implication was that her eyesight was so poor, she could not distinguish a wild racoon from her pet cat! (“Sears Optical Racoon Spot”). Spinoza was not only a lens crafter who helped people physically see correct reality, but he also was a philosopher who endeavored to help people comprehend an accurate understanding of God or nature. Spinoza was a contemporary to Descartes – noted for his cogito ergo sum - however Spinoza did not stop at acknowledging individual existence but strived to grasp “philosophical truth” from the view of an eternal, “rational observer” and not so much from a petty, egotistic perspective (Scruton, A Short History of Modern Philosophy : From Descartes to Wittgenstein, 48).

Born on November 24, 1632, in Amsterdam, Spinoza lived in an epoch of not only enlightenment, but one of challenges where people were vindictive and egocentric. One specific example of the degree to which people went to hold such strong beliefs was that of Uriel Da Costa; whose beliefs over which Spinoza “probably meditated long and hard” (Nadler, Spinoza : A Life, 66). Da Costa’s family and Spinoza’s family were connected as far back as when they lived in Portugal, before many of the Jews fled to Amsterdam (66). As for Uriel, his father was a Christian and his mother was a “Judaizer” (66). Having been raised Christian, he greatly feared for his salvation to the point of “sadness and pain”, and he deeply questioned his faith wondering if it “[agreed] with reason” (66-67). He abandoned his Christian faith and converted to Judaism in 1612 (67). But after some time living among the Jews in Amsterdam, he found their sect to be too Pharisaical. He moved to Hamburg in 1616 and published his quarrels with Judaism, railing against the “vanity and invalidity of the traditions and ordinances of the Pharisees” (68). Besides rejecting and deriding Jewish rites such as circumcision and the use of phylacteries and prayer shawls, Da Costa denied the immortality of the soul, the afterlife and eternal reward, all of which, he thought, caused great errors in thinking and “superstitious behaviors” (69). The Jewish religious leaders banned him, and he was exiled from the community; but after several years, he repented. He confessed his sins to the congregation, was then stripped to his waist, tied to a pillar and whipped thirty-nine times, then laid down at the threshold of the synagogue and walked over by every congregant as they exited the building. A few days later, Da Costa killed himself (71-72). Who is to blame for the anxieties of Da Costa? Was he in the right? Were his lay ministers rightfully justified in this brutal repentance process? Or were Da Costa and the rabbis all tragically in error?

Perhaps Spinoza thought they were all in error and attempted to correct these ideas. One historian of Spinoza wrote that having an “anthropomorphic conception of God can have only deleterious effects on human freedom and activity” (Nadler, Spinoza : A Life, 229). Furthermore, a modern author noted a similar sentiment when she wrote, “you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” (Lamott). To rebut this erroneous perspective, Spinoza intended to elucidate a philosophy which would help society see reality from “the aspect of eternity” and to comprehend nature as an enduring and infinite entity in “which we participate because in it we are dissolved.” (Scruton, A Short History of Modern Philosophy : From Descartes to Wittgenstein, 62).  Dissolution of oneself is synonymous to what Seneca wrote when he suggested the human soul "[inject] itself into the cosmos as a whole” (see Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius 66.6 and Hadot, et. al., The Present Alone Is Our Happiness : Conversations with Jeannie Carlier and Arnold I. Davidson, 230). Consequently, if we have a correct understanding of God or nature, we minimize emotions and are free to not only plunge ourselves into nature, but to also participate with God by acting virtuously. In brief, Spinoza claims “our happiness and well-being lie, not in a life enslaved to the passions and to the transitory goods we ordinarily pursue, nor in the related unreflective attachment to the superstitions that pass as religion, but rather in the life of reason” (Nadler, Spinoza : A Life, 227). The crux of Spinoza’s philosophy is God as substance.

Spinoza’s God is not meant to be anthropomorphized. As he states in the scholium of proposition 15: “some imagine God in the likeness of man, consisting of mind and body, and subject to passions” (Benedictus De Spinoza et al. Ethics, Part 1). Rather than a personal God, like that found in Abrahamic religions, Spinoza argued God is “infinite … (self-caused), [and a] unique substance of the universe” and that God is this substance, and all else that exists in the universe is in God (Nadler, “Baruch Spinoza (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)”). Since everything is God, humans and objects in the cosmos are simply modes or affections (Benedictus De Spinoza et al., Ethics, Part 1, proposition 15). There are two types of modes.  The first are “infinite and eternal” and the second are “finite and temporal” (Dutton).  The first are like the laws of motion which are “pervasive features of the universe” while the second are individual objects which inhabit the universe (Dutton). Lastly, Spinoza defines God as deterministic, when he stated, “nothing in nature is contingent, but all things are from the necessity of the divine nature determined to exist and act in a definite way” (Benedictus De Spinoza et al., Ethics, Part 1, proposition 29). As for free-will, he bluntly wrote, “men believe themselves to be free, that they are conscious of their actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined” (Benedictus De Spinoza et al., Ethics, Part 3, proposition 2, scholium). In all these aspects of defining God, Spinoza remained totally committed to helping humanity comprehend reality from “the aspect of eternity” and to avoid the cruel, emotional behavior which many, including Da Costa, suffered in his time (Nadler, Spinoza : A Life, 241).

How does this understanding of God help the individual to minimize emotions? An awareness of “the universe in its totality cannot produce confused ideas, since the idea of the universe in its totality is the idea of God, which, to the extent that we grasp it, is adequate in us” (Scruton, A Short History of Modern Philosophy : From Descartes to Wittgenstein, 62). This seeking and comprehension of how the cosmos operates unshackles us “from the troublesome emotional ups and downs of this life” by freeing us “from a reliance on the senses and the imagination” (Nadler, “Baruch Spinoza (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)”). No longer tied to the puppet strings of religious dogma, fear of death, fame, riches and a myriad of other external things beyond our control, our emotions are not pulled and manipulated by others, but rather we freely choose how to act virtuously and with equanimity (see Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.29 and Nadler, Spinoza : A Life, 242).

Once we become unchained from externals, we exit the proverbial cave and enter the cosmos as an active agent instead of a passive entity (see Plato, et. al. 516a-517b). “The attempt to understand reality through that idea necessarily leads us to the love of reality … this love is active and intellectual, not passive and emotional; in acquiring it we come to participate in the divine nature” (Scruton, A Short History of Modern Philosophy : From Descartes to Wittgenstein, 62). As an active agent in the universe, we see reality from a timeless and limitless perspective. Our actions and attitude, in a sense, are unified with God and we are free to choose a virtuous life which aligns itself with the morality of God.  This entire concept is perfectly captured in the Greek word eudaimonia, which means one’s daimon – or deity within – is flourishing well or “good” (eu) (see Hadot, The Inner Citadel, 120-124).

Having attained this realization and enlightenment via this leap into reality, we begin to comprehend how every event and interaction becomes a way to practice and live a virtuous, moral life, which “happiness … is strictly its own reward” (Scruton A Short History of Modern Philosophy : From Descartes to Wittgenstein, 62). Our egotistical identity becomes transformed – we realize we are a part of God – and God’s reason becomes our reason. Pierre Hadot, in his analysis of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, succinctly explains this realization and inner transformation.  The individual passes from the “domain of necessity to the domain of freedom, and from the domain of freedom to the domain of morality” by assuming the perspective of God or nature and realizing one is only an “infinitesimal point within the immensity” (Hadot, The Inner Citadel, 182). Realizing how little is in one’s control, he is liberated to focus solely on his own attitude; responding with justice, courage, temperance or wisdom to circumstances placed before him; refraining from judging something to be good or bad, and holding on to a higher perspective – these are the choices one makes to inject oneself into the universe and become dissolved in and unified with God.

Spinoza embodied his philosophy. In a poignant letter with a colleague in England, while the Dutch Republic and the United Provinces of England were at war, Spinoza wrote,

these troubles move me neither to laughter nor again to tears, but rather to philosophising, and to a closer observation of human nature. For I do not think it right to laugh at nature, and far less to grieve over it, reflecting that men, like all else, are only a part of nature, and that I do not know how each part of nature harmonises with the whole, and how it coheres with other parts. And I realize that it is merely through such lack of understanding that certain features of nature - which I thus perceive only partly and in a fragmentary way, and which are not in keeping with our philosophical attitude of mind - once seemed to me vain, disordered and absurd. But now I let everyone go his own way. Those who wish can by all means die for their own good, as long as I am allowed to live for truth (Nadler, Spinoza : A Life, 220).

On another occasion, when financial stakes were high, Spinoza’s sister Rebekah tried to prevent him from acquiring his share of his father’s inheritance after he had died. Spinoza, out of sheer principal, took her to court, “established his claim, and then calmly renounced it” thus maintaining justice, while not grasping at externals (Scruton, Spinoza : A Very Short Introduction, 9).

In conclusion, Spinoza was an honorable soul who observed the barbarities of his time and tried to do his part to rectify them. He worked all his life explaining his vision of universal harmony as well as establish a path away from superstition and one toward unity with the cosmos. His friends closest to him bear witness to Spinoza’s embodiment of his philosophy, noting his “personal charm, nobility of outlook, and affectionate disposition” (18). He never relented in advocating a comprehension of nature as an enduring and infinite entity, into which we plunge, are dissolved and actively participate in a virtuous and moral life.  

Works Cited

Benedictus De Spinoza, et al. Complete Works. Hackett Pub, 2002.

Dutton, Blake D. “Spinoza, Benedict de | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Hadot, Pierre, and Michael Chase. The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Cambridge, Mass. London Harvard University Press, 2001.

Hadot, Pierre, et al. The Present Alone Is Our Happiness : Conversations with Jeannie Carlier and Arnold I. Davidson. Stanford University Press, 2011.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Anchor Books, 1994.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, et al. Letters on Ethics : To Lucilius. The University Of Chicago Press, 2015.

Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, et al. Meditations. Penguin Classics, An Imprint Of Penguin Books, 2014.

Nadler, Steven M. “Baruch Spinoza (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 2016,

---. Spinoza : A Life. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Plato, et al. A Plato Reader : Eight Essential Dialogues. Hackett Pub. Co, 2012.

Scruton, Roger. A Short History of Modern Philosophy : From Descartes to Wittgenstein, Taylor & Francis Group, 1995. ProQuest Ebook Central,

---. Spinoza : A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2002.

“Sears Optical Raccoon Spot.”, 23 Jan. 2014,

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Quotes and Review of Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

For my own reference, I'll simply be consolidating all the highlights I made from the book.  I may make some commentary as needed.

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy."

He notes that he has seen too many people die because they judged that life is not worth living.  The book is to help them dispel that idea.

"Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined."

"killing yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it"

"A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and this life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity."

"it often happens that those who commit suicide were assured of the meaning of life."

"We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking."

"Hope of another life one must 'deserve' or trickery of those who live not for life itself but for some great idea that will transcend it, refine it, give it a meaning, and betray it."

"It is always easy to be logical. It is almost impossible to be logical to the bitter end."

"The climate of absurdity is in the beginning. The end is the absurd universe and that attitude of mind which lights the world with its true colors to bring out the privileged and implacable visage which that attitude has discerned in it."

"It happens that the stage sets collapse. Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm—this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the “why” arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement. “Begins”—this is important. Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return into the chain or it is the definitive awakening. At the end of the awakening comes, in time, the consequence: suicide or recovery. In itself weariness has something sickening about it. Here, I must conclude that it is good. For everything begins with consciousness and nothing is worth anything except through it."

"At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman, and these hills, the softness of the sky, the outline of these trees at this very minute lose the illusory meaning with which we had clothed them, henceforth more remote than a lost paradise."

"Just as there are days when under the familial face of a woman, we see as a stranger her we had loved months or years ago, perhaps we shall come even to desire what suddenly leaves us so alone."

"This discomfort in the face of man’s own inhumanity, this incalculable tumble before the image of what we are, this “nausea,” as a writer of today calls it, is also the absurd."

"The mind’s first step is to distinguish what is true from what is false."

"Understanding the world for a man is reducing it to the human, stamping it with his seal."

"If man realized that the universe like him can love and suffer, he would be reconciled."

"That nostalgia for unity, that appetite for the absolute illustrates the essential impulse of the human drama."

"It is essential to consider as a constant point of reference in this essay the regular hiatus between what we fancy we know and what we really know, practical assent and simulated ignorance which allows us to live with ideas which, if we truly put them to the test, ought to upset our whole life."

This is a very important point Camus makes and one which is not made explicit in day-to-day conversations.  It is a point not explicitly made, but strongly implied when talking philosophy.  What we know is very little.  Much of the rest is conjecture.  Just the other evening, I was talking with my sister about the period of time in history between John Wycliff (d. 1384) and the Münster rebellion (~1535).  In that 150 year period alone there was horrible violence all because of a few philosophical ideas on God and church.  Millions (perhaps billions?) have died for ideas which can be categorized as "simulated ignorance."

Camus goes on to say, "So long as the mind keeps silent in the motionless world of its hopes, everything is reflected and arranged in the unity of its nostalgia. But with its first move this world cracks and tumbles: an infinite number of shimmering fragments is offered to the understanding. We must despair of ever reconstructing the familiar, calm surface which would give us peace of heart."

I think that the yearning - the nostalgia - for certainty is what people cling to and over which they start wars and bloodshed.  In searching for the familiar, simulated ignorance which they think gives them a 'calm surface' and 'peace of heart' they find uncertainty ... when they have that realization, it disrupts their world and in some cases, violence ensues and for some, suicide.

"If the only significant history of human thought were to be written, it would have to be the history of its successive regrets and its impotences."

"Of whom and of what indeed can I say: “I know that!” This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction. For if I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers."

"This very heart which is mine will forever remain indefinable to me. Between the certainty I have of my existence and the content I try to give to that assurance, the gap will never be filled."

"Socrates’ ”Know thyself” has as much value as the “Be virtuous” of our confessionals. They reveal a nostalgia at the same time as an ignorance. They are sterile exercises on great subjects. They are legitimate only in precisely so far as they are approximate."

"You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. Have I the time to become indignant? You have already changed theories. So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art. What need had I of so many efforts?"

a good definition of the absurd"A stranger to myself and to the world, armed solely with a thought that negates itself as soon as it asserts, what is this condition in which I can have peace only by refusing to know and to live, in which the appetite for conquest bumps into walls that defy its assaults? To will is to stir up paradoxes. Everything is ordered in such a way as to bring into being that poisoned peace produced by thoughtlessness, lack of heart, or fatal renunciations."

"despite so many pretentious centuries and over the heads of so many eloquent and persuasive men, I know that is false. On this plane, at least, there is no happiness if I cannot know. That universal reason,
practical or ethical, that determinism, those categories that explain everything are enough to make a decent man laugh. They have nothing to do with the mind. They negate its profound truth, which is to be enchained. In this unintelligible and limited universe, man’s fate henceforth assumes its meaning."

"what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart."

"On the plane of history, such a constancy of two attitudes illustrates the essential passion of man torn between his urge toward unity and the clear vision he may have of the walls enclosing him."

"Chestov, for his part, throughout a wonderfully monotonous work, constantly straining toward the same truths, tirelessly demonstrates that the tightest system, the most universal rationalism always stumbles eventually on the irrational of human thought."

"Of all perhaps the most engaging, Kierkegaard, for a part of his existence at least, does more than discover the absurd, he lives it. The man who writes: “The surest of stubborn silences is not to hold one’s tongue but to talk” makes sure in the beginning that no truth is absolute or can render satisfactory an existence that is impossible in itself."

"Thinking is learning all over again to see, to be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment."

"I want everything to be explained to me or nothing."

"The world itself, whose single meaning I do not understand, is but a vast irrational. If one could only say just once: “This is clear,” all would be saved. But these men vie with one another in proclaiming that nothing is clear, all is chaos, that all man has is his lucidity and his definite knowledge of the walls surrounding him. All these experiences agree and confirm one another. The mind, when it reaches its limits, must make a judgment and choose its conclusions."

"Absurd is not in man (if such a metaphor could have a meaning) nor in the world, but in their presence together. For the moment it is the only bond uniting them. If wish to limit myself to facts, I know what man wants, I know what the world offers him, and now I can say that I also know what links them."

"A man who has become conscious of the absurd is forever bound to it."

"'the unthinkable unity of the general and the particular.' Thus the absurd becomes god (in the broadest meaning of this word) and that inability to understand becomes the existence that illuminates everything. Nothing logically prepares this reasoning. I can call it a leap."

"'The only true solution,' [Chestov] said, 'is precisely where human judgment sees no solution. Otherwise, what need would we have of God? We turn toward God only to obtain the impossible. As for the possible, men suffice.'"

"Chestov discovers the fundamental absurdity of all existence, he does not say: “This is the absurd,” but rather: “This is God: we must rely on him even if he does not correspond to any of our rational categories.” So that confusion may not be possible, the Russian philosopher even hints that this God is perhaps full of hatred and hateful, incomprehensible and contradictory; but the more hideous is his face, the more he asserts his power. His greatness is his incoherence. His proof is his inhumanity. One must spring into him and by this leap free oneself from rational illusions. Thus, for Chestov acceptance of the absurd is contemporaneous with the absurd itself."

"the absurd is the contrary of hope."

"The moment the notion transforms itself into eternity’s springboard, it ceases to be linked to human lucidity."

"This leap is an escape."

"The intoxication of the irrational and the vocation of rapture turn a lucid mind away from the absurd. To Chestov reason is useless but there is something beyond reason. To an absurd mind reason is useless and there is nothing beyond reason. This leap can at least enlighten us a little more as to the true
nature of the absurd."

"The absurd man, on the other hand, does not undertake such a leveling process. He recognizes the struggle, does not absolutely scorn reason, and admits the irrational. Thus he again embraces in a single glance all the data of experience and he is little inclined to leap before knowing. He knows simply that in that alert awareness there is no further place for hope."

"Kierkegaard likewise takes the leap. His childhood having been so frightened by Christianity, he ultimately returns to its harshest aspect ...  Christianity is the scandal and what Kierkegaard calls for quite plainly is the third sacrifice required by Ignatius Loyola, the one in which God most rejoices: “The sacrifice of the intellect.” ... “In his failure,” says Kierkegaard, “the believer finds his triumph.”

"through a strained subterfuge, he gives the irrational the appearance and God the attributes of the absurd: unjust, incoherent, and incomprehensible."

"I want to know whether I can live with what I know and with that alone"

"The absurd, which is the metaphysical state of the conscious man, does not lead to God. Perhaps this notion will become clearer if I risk this shocking statement: the absurd is sin without God."

"god is maintained only through the negation of human reason. But, like suicides, gods change with men. There are many ways of leaping, the essential being to leap. Those redeeming negations, those ultimate contradictions which negate the obstacle that has not yet been leaped over."

another key quote which defines absurdism"In fact, our aim is to shed light upon the step taken by the mind when, starting from a philosophy of the world’s lack of meaning, it ends up by finding a meaning and depth in it." ... "Thinking is learning all over again how to see ... the act of attention"

"Reason and the irrational lead to the same preaching. In truth the way matters but little; the will to arrive suffices. The abstract philosopher and the religious philosopher start out from the same disorder and support each other in the same anxiety. ... It is constantly oscillating between extreme rationalization of reality which tends to break up that thought into standard reasons and its extreme irrationalization which tends to deify it."

"Just as reason was able to soothe the melancholy of Plotinus, it provides modern anguish the means of calming itself in the familiar setting of the eternal. The absurd mind has less luck. For it the world is neither so rational nor so irrational. It is unreasonable and only that. ...  The absurd is lucid reason noting its limit."

"Sin is not so much knowing (if it were, everybody would be innocent) as wanting to know. Indeed, it
is the only sin of which the absurd man can feel that it constitutes both his guilt and his innocence."

"It is that divorce between the mind that desires and the world that disappoints, my nostalgia for unity,
this fragmented universe and the contradiction that binds them together."

"Is one going to die, escape by the leap, rebuild a mansion of ideas and forms to one’s own scale? Is
one, on the contrary, going to take up the heart-rending and marvelous wager of the absurd?"

"At a certain point on his path the absurd man is tempted. History is not lacking in either religions or prophets, even without gods. He is asked to leap. All he can reply is that he doesn’t fully understand,
that it is not obvious."

"It was previously a question of finding out whether or not life had to have a meaning to be lived. It now becomes clear, on the contrary, that it will be lived all the better if it has no meaning. Living an experience, a particular fate, is accepting it fully."

"The theme of permanent revolution is thus carried into individual experience. Living is keeping the absurd alive. Keeping it alive is, above all, contemplating it."

"One of the only coherent philosophical positions is thus revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity. It is an insistence upon an impossible transparency. It challenges the world
anew every second. Just as danger provided man the unique opportunity of seizing awareness, so metaphysical revolt extends awareness to the whole of experience. It is that constant presence
of man in his own eyes. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainly of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it."

"Suicide, like the leap, is acceptance at its extreme. Everything is over and man returns to his essential history. His future, his unique and dreadful future—he sees and rushes toward it. In its way, suicide settles the absurd. It engulfs the absurd in the same death. But I know that in order to keep alive, the absurd cannot be settled. It escapes suicide to the extent that it is simultaneously awareness and rejection of death. ... That revolt gives life its value."

"Consciousness and revolt, these rejections are the contrary of renunciation. Everything that is indomitable and passionate in a human heart quickens them, on the contrary, with its own life. It is essential to die unreconciled and not of one’s own free will. Suicide is a repudiation. The absurd man can only drain everything to the bitter end, and deplete himself. The absurd is his extreme tension, which he maintains constantly by solitary effort, for he knows that in that consciousness and in that day-to-day revolt he gives proof of his only truth, which is defiance. This is a first consequence."

"either we are not free and God the all-powerful is responsible for evil. Or we are free and responsible but God is not all powerful."

"The only conception of freedom I can have is that of the prisoner or the individual in the midst of the State. The only one I know is freedom of thought and action. Now if the absurd cancels all my chances of eternal freedom, it restores and magnifies, on the other hand, my freedom of action. That privation of hope and future means an increase in man’s availability."

"Thinking of the future, establishing aims for oneself, having preferences—all this presupposes a belief in freedom, even if one occasionally ascertains that one doesn’t feel it. But at that moment I am well aware that that higher liberty, that freedom to be, which alone can serve as basis for a truth, does not exist. Death is there as the only reality."

"The absurd enlightens me on this point: there is no future. Henceforth this is the reason for my inner freedom."

"The absurd man thus catches sight of a burning and frigid, transparent and limited universe in which nothing is possible but everything is given, and beyond which all is collapse and nothingness. He can then decide to accept such a universe and draw from it his strength, his refusal to hope, and the unyielding evidence of a life without consolation."

"But what does life mean in such a universe? Nothing else for the moment but indifference to the future and a desire to use up everything that is given. Belief in the meaning of life always implies a scale of values, a choice, our preferences. Belief in the absurd, according to our definitions, teaches the contrary. ... Knowing whether or not one can live without appeal is all that interests me."

"belief in the absurd is tantamount to substituting the quantity of experiences for the quality. If I convince myself that this life has no other aspect than that of the absurd, if I feel that its whole equilibrium depends on that perpetual opposition between my conscious revolt and the darkness in which it struggles, if I admit that my freedom has no meaning except in relation to its limited fate, then I must say that what counts is not the best living but the most living. It is not up to me to wonder if this is vulgar or revolting, elegant or deplorable. Once and for all, value judgments are discarded here in favor of factual judgments."

"The most living ... quantity and variety of experiences ... there must also be taken into consideration the individual’s spontaneous contribution, the “given” element in him ... on the one hand the absurd teaches that all experiences are unimportant, and on the other it urges toward the greatest quantity of experiences. How, then, can one fail to do as so many of those men I was speaking of earlier—choose the form of life that brings us the most possible of that human matter ... Being aware of one’s life, one’s revolt, one’s freedom, and to the maximum, is living, and to the maximum ... The absurd and the extra life it involves therefore do not defend on man’s will, but on its contrary, which is death. Weighing words carefully, it is altogether a question of luck. ... The present and the succession of presents before a constantly conscious soul is the ideal of the absurd man."

"Thus I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion.  By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death—and I refuse suicide."

"For the spectator, if he is conscious, that leap is still absurd. ... the point is to live."

"What, in fact, is the absurd man? He who, without negating it, does nothing for the eternal. Not that nostalgia is foreign to him. But he prefers his courage and his reasoning. The first teaches him to live without appeal and to get along with what he has; the second informs him of his limits. Assured of his
temporally limited freedom, of his revolt devoid of future, and of his mortal consciousness, he lives out his adventure within the span of his lifetime. That is his field, that is his action, which he shields from any judgment but his own. A greater life cannot mean for him another life."

"There is but one moral code that the absurd man can accept, the one that is not separated from God: the one that is dictated. ... “Everything is permitted,” exclaims Ivan Karamazov. That, too, smacks of the absurd. But on condition that it not be taken in the vulgar sense."

He then paints a picture of various absurd characters who embody the philosophy.

Don Juanism

"There is no noble love but that which recognizes itself to be both short-lived and exceptional."

Drama (the actor)

"The everyday man does not enjoy tarrying. Everything, on the contrary, hurries him onward. But at the same time nothing interests him more than himself, especially his potentialities. Whence his interest
in the theater, in the show, where so many fates are offered him, where he can accept the poetry without feeling the sorrow."

"Choosing between heaven and a ridiculous fidelity, preferring oneself to eternity or losing oneself in God is the age-old tragedy in which each must play his part."

Conquest (the conqueror)

"Conscious that I cannot stand aloof from my time, I have decided to be an integral part of it. This is why I esteem the individual only because he strikes me as ridiculous and humiliated. Knowing that there are no victorious causes, I have a liking for lost causes: they require an uncontaminated soul, equal to its defeat as to its temporary victories."

"deprived of the eternal, I want to ally myself with time."

"Conquerors know that action is in itself useless ... I have chosen this absurd and ineffectual effort. This is why I am on the side of the struggle."

"Victory would be desirable. But there is but one victory, and it is eternal. That is the one I shall
never have."

"Conquerors sometimes talk of vanquishing and overcoming. But it is always ‘overcoming oneself’ that they mean."

in sum of the characters ... "Let me repeat that these images do not propose moral codes and involve no judgments: they are sketches. They merely represent a style of life. The lover, the actor, or the adventurer plays the absurd. But equally well, if he wishes, the chaste man, the civil servant, or the president of the Republic."

"Being deprived of hope is not despairing. ... They are not striving to be better; they are attempting to be consistent."

"The imagination can add many others, inseparable from time and exile, who likewise know how to live in harmony with a universe without future and without weakness. This absurd, godless world is, then, peopled with men who think clearly and have ceased to hope. And I have not yet spoken of the most absurd character, who is the creator."

Absurd Creation

"War cannot be negated. One must live it or die of it."  This quote reminds me of Heraclitus, war is the father of all.

"Creation is the great mime."

"Even men without a gospel have their Mount of Olives. And one must not fall asleep on theirs either. For the absurd man it is not a matter of explaining and solving, but of experiencing and describing. Everything begins with lucid indifference."

"The philosopher, even if he is Kant, is a creator."

"Today when thought has ceased to lay claim to the universal, when its best history would be that of its repentances, we know that the system, when it is worth while, cannot be separated from its author. The Ethics itself, in one of its aspects, is but a long and reasoned personal confession." This is his way of saying one must embody their philosophy.

"I want to know whether, accepting a life without appeal, one can also agree to work and create without appeal and what is the way leading to these liberties. I want to liberate my universe of its phantoms and
to people it solely with flesh-and-blood truths whose presence I cannot deny. I can perform absurd work, choose the creative attitude rather than another. But an absurd attitude, if it is to remain so, must remain aware of its gratuitousness. So it is with the work of art. If the commandments of the absurd are not respected, if the work does not illustrate divorce and revolt, if it sacrifices to illusions and arouses hope, it ceases to be gratuitous."

"What holds for creation, looked upon as one of the possible attitudes for the man conscious of the absurd, holds for all the styles of life open to him. The conqueror or the actor, the creator or Don Juan may forget that their exercise in living could not do without awareness of its mad character."

"There is so much stubborn hope in the human heart. The most destitute men often end up by accepting illusion. That approval prompted by the need for peace inwardly parallels the existential consent."


"What distinguishes modern sensibility from classical sensibility is that the latter thrives on moral problems and the former on metaphysical problems. In Dostoevsky’s novels the question is propounded with such intensity that it can only invite extreme solutions. Existence is illusory or it is eternal."

"Convinced that human existence is an utter absurdity for anyone without faith in immortality, the
desperate man comes to the following conclusions:

“Since in reply to my questions about happiness, I am told, through the intermediary of my consciousness, that I cannot be happy except in harmony with the great all, which I cannot conceive and shall never be in a position to conceive, it is evident...”

“Since, finally, in this connection, I assume both the role of the plaintiff and that of the defendant, of the accused and of the judge, and since I consider this comedy perpetrated by nature altogether stupid, and since I even deem it humiliating for me to deign to play it ...”

“In my indisputable capacity of plaintiff and defendant, of judge and accused, I condemn that nature which, with such impudent nerve, brought me into being in order to suffer—I condemn it to be annihilated with me.”

"There remains a little humor in that position. This suicide kills himself because, on the metaphysical plane, he is vexed. In a certain sense he is taking his revenge. This is his way of proving that he “will not be had."

"“I shall kill myself in order to assert my insubordination, my new and dreadful liberty.” It is no longer a question of revenge, but of revolt. Kirilov is consequently an absurd character—yet with this essential reservation: he kills himself. ... he wants to kill himself to become god. ...  “If God does not exist, I am god,"

"Kirilov in fact fancies for a moment that Jesus at his death did not find himself in Paradise. He found out then that his torture had been useless. “The laws of nature,” says the engineer, “made Christ live in the midst of falsehood and die for a falsehood.”" ... He is the complete man, being the one who realized the most absurd condition. He is not the God-man but the man-god. And, like him, each of us can be crucified and victimized—and is to a certain degree."

"If God exists, all depends on him and we can do nothing against his will. If he does not exist, everything depends on us."

"Kirilov must kill himself out of love for humanity ... it is not despair that urges him to death, but love of his neighbor."

"Kirilov’s pistol rang out somewhere in Russia, but the world continued to cherish its blind hopes."

"Consequently, it is not an absurd novelist addressing us, but an existential novelist. Here, too, the leap is touching and gives its nobility to the art that inspires it. It is a stirring acquiescence, riddled with doubts, uncertain and ardent. Speaking of The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky wrote: “The chief question that will be pursued throughout this book is the very one from which I have suffered consciously or unconsciously all life long: the existence of God."

"It is not an absurd work that is involved here, but a work that propounds the absurd problem."

"what contradicts the absurd in that work is not its Christian character, but rather its announcing a future life. It is possible to be Christian and absurd."

"The surprising reply of the creator to his characters, of Dostoevsky to Kirilov, can indeed be summed up thus: existence is illusory and it is eternal."

Ephemeral Creation

"To work and create “for nothing,” to sculpture in clay, to know that one’s creation has no future, to see one’s work destroyed in a day while being aware that fundamentally this has no more importance than building for centuries—this is the difficult wisdom that absurd thought sanctions."

"At the moment of death, the succession of his works is but a collection of failures. But if those failures all have the same resonance, the creator has managed to repeat the image of his own condition, to make the air echo with the sterile secret he possesses."

"human will had no other purpose than to maintain awareness. But that could not do without discipline. Of all the schools of patience and lucidity, creation is the most effective. It is also the staggering evidence of man’s sole dignity: the dogged revolt against his condition, perseverance in an effort considered sterile. It calls for a daily effort, self-mastery, a precise estimate of the limits of truth, measure, and strength. It constitutes an ascesis. All that “for nothing,” in order to repeat and mark time."

"Thus, I ask of absurd creation what I required from thought— revolt, freedom, and diversity. Later on it will manifest its utter futility. In that daily effort in which intelligence and passion mingle and delight each other, the absurd man discovers a discipline that will make up the greatest of his strengths."

"The final effort for these related minds, creator or conqueror, is to manage to free themselves also from their undertakings: succeed in granting that the very work, whether it be conquest, love, or creation, may well not be; consummate thus the utter futility of any individual life."

The Myth of Sisyphus

"The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor."

"You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing."

"Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he
will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain. It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me."

"If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious."

"The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn."

"Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth."

"the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols."

"The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing."

"I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."