While it comprises part of this essay's subject, it should be noted that in no piece of literature by Albert Camus will you find a direct quote of him declaring that 'only a life lived in the face of death can be significant, or meaningful.' This is a paraphrased version of a passage found in his work the Myth of Sisyphus, which reads: 'There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. If we judge the importance of a philosophical problem by the consequences it entails, the problem of the meaning of life is certainly the most important. Someone who judges that life is not worth living will commit suicide, and those who feel they have found some meaning to life may be inclined to die or kill to defend that meaning. Other philosophical problems do not entail such drastic consequences.' (Camus 1975)
To Camus, the existence of death is central to what he maintains as the only truly serious philosophical problem. For without death, there could be no suicide, and there would be no question regarding the meaning of life. This assertion, one must concede, is not only interesting, but convincing as well. By directly linking the act of suicide to the meaning of life, suicide becomes the mechanism through which any individual must act upon their own decision about life's meaning for themselves. And if suicide is the ultimate act by which a person can express their own view of the meaning of life, then it must be essential to the question itself.
If suicide did not exist, then it follows according to Camus' theory that life would have no meaning, since we would no longer have any means by which to act on our choices. Regardless of our own answer, we would have ultimately lost our ability to do anything if we could not even support a view that life is meaningless by refusing to take part in it. The meaning of life would then become as abstract and pointless a question as to trying to understand why the sun rises from the east; the answer does not matter, since it just does and there is no action we can take to affect our beliefs in any way. Similarly, the question "Does my life have any meaning?" would lose its significance if there were ultimately no option available if the answer were, in fact, a resounding "No." The importance of the question would be greatly diminished by its utter futility.
However, that interesting concept aside, it is irrelevant to the question in its current form. While that was Camus' view, the interpretation of his views in this question does not relate to suicide, but to death, which vastly changes the meaning of his views. Camus is saying that only a life lived in the face of suicide can be significant or meaningful. This is not the same as the question set, even though without death there would be no such concept as suicide, which amounts to causing one's own death.
Heidegger, however, agrees with the question posed. He believes that only in death is an individual finally defined. While a person is alive, identity is never a settled matter, but constantly being re-evaluated, re-examined, and re-interpreted. Only in death do you finally find meaning, since that is when a person reaches the end of the self-interpretive activity, itself. Furthermore, Heidegger writes in 'Being and Nothingness' that Death is existence. Death is the only unique possibility, and it is the individual alone that can encounter their own death. Multiple individuals could have the same life experiences, careers, loves, passions, pains, but nobody can have anyone else's death, as it is your most private experience. Only by confronting your death do you become a completed individual; therefore, without the possibility of death, a meaningful life could not be lead. (Hoffman 1983, p 52.)
Camus' views on the absence of death are uniquely his own. Whilst I believe that the fact of death significantly impacts our lives, I do not...
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