Did Albert Camus, author of The Stranger, believe that life was meaningless?

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Yes, but also no.

Camus was an existentialist, but he was also a part of a subset of existentialists called the absurdists.

The philosophy of existentialism relies on the thought that life is about creating your own meaning rather than accepting meaning from somewhere else, like tradition or authority. Of course, this leads to the conclusion that the meaning of life will be unique to each one of us and that it will always be subjective, rather than objectively true.

Absurdists like Camus take this a step further while straining the existentialist idea. The core nugget of the absurdist philosophy is that life has no inherent meaning but that existentialism still holds nevertheless: even though life is actually meaningless, that does not mean that we should kill ourselves (Camus argues against suicide in one of his books of essays, The Rebel). Instead, the lack of an inherent meaning to life actually reinforces the idea that it is up to us to create our own, strengthening the power of the existentialist ideal.

This is why Camus's line of thought is called "absurd": Life is meaningless, but nevertheless, we persevere and struggle to find one. It is also why Camus had such a strong affinity for the myth of Sisyphus, the Ancient Greek story of the man punished to eternally push a stone up a hill, only for it to roll back down. It's all pointless, but we do it anyway.

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Readings of the breadth of Camus's work suggest that he did not believe that life is meaningless; it would be more accurate to say that Camus was more interested in exploring the question of how we create the meaning of our lives. He also appears to have believed that there were no fixed answers to be found about life's meaning: not in religions, philosophies, science, or the natural world.

A clue about how to understand what Camus believed was life's fundamental absurdity can be found in Meursault's ultimate conclusions in Camus's 1942 novel The Stranger. Judged and condemned by his society, Meursault comes to recognize that it is up to him to bring meaning to his life; it cannot be found outside himself. When he opens himself to "the gentle indifference of the world" he is at peace with his situation.

 

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