Philosophy has long attempted to give a sense of meaning and direction to the experience of human existence. We are born, we acquire hopes, dreams, aspirations, careers, and then we inevitably die. This somewhat bleak outlook leaves us with an important question; does anything we do matter?
Though we may be inclined to think that our existence has some purpose, we must also consider that there simply is no purpose to our lives. Such a realization seems inherently wrong to many people and the nature of that “wrongness” is often expressed as absurdity. It is absurd, after all, that the impossibly complex world we live and die in has no meaning.
Absurdist thinkers believe that it is all the more absurd that despite a lack of meaning, people continue to struggle and labour through life.
Absurdity, however, is not a single school or even a truly unified form of thought. A wide variety of thinkers have utilized the idea in their work, placing varying amounts of importance on the relative nature and effects of the absurd. Some of the most extreme views ponder if there is any sense in continuing our lives after we recognize the absurd nature of our existence.
This is not to say that recognition of the absurd must lead to despair or a sense of hopelessness. Many philosophers have tried to find a way to preserve some semblance of purpose in a world that seems meaningless.
The most famous visual associated with the absurd is that of Sisyphus, doomed forever to roll a boulder up a steep hill only to have it roll back down to the bottom, causing his labour to begin again. Camus used the image of Sisyphus to provide an alternative path for combating the absurd.
Recognizing the absurd shouldn’t lead one to suicide, rather it should inspire a spirit of resistance and revolt. We look at the meaningless nature of our existence and choose to struggle against it, just as Sisyphus continues to roll his boulder up the hill despite knowing that his labours would result in nothing.
It is through that labour, that effort, that struggle, that he finds meaning and it is through a similar struggle that we can find a semblance of purpose in an absurd world.