Unit 8: Albert Camus
Albert Camus (1913–1960) was an Algerian writer and intellectual who refused to be called a philosopher because he did not believe that human reason was capable of systematizing human experience in all of its nuances. He was a friend and, later, a critic of Sartre, and his works manifest concerns similar to those of Sartre. Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957. In this unit, you will explore Camus' existentialism through an examination of his book The Stranger and his essay "The Myth of Sisyphus" (both published in 1942), which highlight the absurdities of human existence and, interestingly enough, the absurdity of existentialism itself if the philosophy is taken to an extreme. You also will develop an appreciation of the manner in which Camus represents the synthesis of existentialist thinking since Pascal.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 7 hours.
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:
- identify the role of Albert Camus in the history of existentialism;
- compare Camus' critique of rationality with those of his predecessors;
- analyze Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus";
- summarize Camus' idea of the absurd; and
- discuss the value of The Stranger as an existentialist work of fiction and its contribution to Camus' philosophy of the absurd.
8.1: Camus' Philosophy Through Literature
Read Camus' 1957 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. As you read, consider the following question: To what extent does this speech represent Camus as a philosopher, rather than solely as an author of fiction?
Read this article on the life and works of Albert Camus. As you read, pay special attention to Camus' criticism of the existentialists. Consider the following question: Why is Camus critical of both the existentialists as a group of philosophers as well as the term existentialism itself? What is the impossible, according to Camus? In what ways does reason drive us to pursue the impossible? Also characterize the role that the absence of God plays in Camus' thinking. How is this feature of Camus' thinking similar to the thinking of Sartre?
8.2: "The Myth of Sisyphus"
Read Camus' essay. As you read, consider how Camus associates Sisyphus' struggle with the struggles of the human condition. What do we learn from the myth of Sisyphus, according to Camus? Of the many ways in which to battle the absurdity of life, why is suicide not an option, according to Camus? Why is Sisyphus an absurd hero? What has Sisyphus done that sets an example for all of us, according to Camus?
Listen to this discussion. As you listen, consider the following questions: According to Camus, what is the absurd? In light of Camus' argument, in what ways is Sisyphus' plight absurd? How is life absurd? Is it possible to escape the absurdity of our condition? If so, how?
Watch this lecture on Camus and "The Myth of Sisyphus". When discussing Sisyphus, who is immortal but lives a meaningless life, Dr. Hicks asks us what would make an immortal life meaningful. Reflect on this question as you watch the video.
8.3: The Stranger
Read Dr. Delahoyde's study notes before progressing to the next assignment, in which you will watch a film version of The Stranger. Refer back to these notes when necessary as you progress through Camus' novel.
Watch Visconti's film adaptation of Camus' seminal novel, The Stranger. As you watch, keep Dr. Delahoyde's study notes in mind. Also consider the following questions: What is the main character's crime? Why has he committed this crime, and why does he think that his defense of the crime is simple? Note how themes from Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus" re-appear here.
Listen to this lecture. As you listen, consider the following questions: What does it mean for the character of Meursault, the main character in The Stranger, to be considered a "blank character"? How does Meursault's emptiness lead him to murder a man? What is the significance of Meursault's failure to cry at his mother's funeral? What role does this event play in Meursault's murder trial?
8.3.2: A Philosophy of the Absurd
Listen to episode 80, titled "Albert Camus – A Conversation". As you listen to this lecture, consider the role that personal biography played in shaping Camus' philosophy. Refer to the previous units of this course and reflect on how intimately the philosophy of existentialism is tied to Camus' biography.
Unit 8 Assessment
- Receive a grade
Take this assessment to see how well you understood this unit.
- This assessment does not count towards your grade. It is just for practice!
- You will see the correct answers when you submit your answers. Use this to help you study for the final exam!
- You can take this assessment as many times as you want, whenever you want.