The Philosophy of Suicide: Albert Camus vs. Arthur Schopenhauer

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Suicide is, according to Sartre, “an opportunity to stake out our understanding of our essence as individuals in a godless world” (Stanford, 2004). Fundamentally, existentialism argues all individuals are free and therefore responsible for their actions. Thus, it is up to the individual to create an ethos of personal ideology, which is the only way one is able to rise above the human condition of suffering, death and finality (Guigon, 2001). Suicide is seen as the individual’s act of giving in to the absurdity of human life. In other words, when a human is unable to create meaning out of the absurdity that surrounds him or herself, her or she live the typical life of pain, suffering, death and thus make suicide a natural act of existence (Guigon, 2001). Two leading existentialists in the philosophy of suicide are Albert Camus and Arthur Schopenhauer. Albert Camus (1913–1960) was considered a leading twentieth century philosopher and writer of existentialist thought, who won the Nobel Prize in 1957 (Guigon, 2001). Although he is often associated with existentialism, he believes that existentialism is philosophical suicide and that the act of suicide is a rejection of freedom. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was among the first to contend that at its core, the universe is not a rational place. Schopenhauer was inspired by Plato and Kant, and was known as the educator of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, who he heavily influenced (Stanford, 2004). Schopenhauer predating the existential movement, his philosophy set the foundation for the concepts of human absurdity and the pain and suffering of life (Guigon, 2001). Taken together, the two philosophers explain the philosophy of suicide through the concepts of human absurdity, the naturalness of pain and suffering, and the inability to give meaning to life. As a result, both Camus and Schopenhauer argue that the act of suicide is a natural response to an inability to cope with a society that simply does not make sense. However, Camus’ philosophizing is more persuasive about the absurdity found in human life and how absurdity prevents an individual from finding meaning in life, than the fundamental nihilist approach of Schopenhauer.

Camus and Schopenhauer both argue that suicide is reasoned by the fact that the human existence is an existence in the absurd, but Camus’ definition of the “absurd” describes humanity’s attempts to place rationalization or reasoning to important aspects of the human condition (Camus, 1991). According to Camus, the absurd is presented by the fact that all choices that a human has are between two extremes, such as happiness and sadness, dark and light, or life and death. Due to these dualisms, Camus argues that actual happiness in the human existence is fleeting and that instead, the human condition is one of mortality (Flynn, 2006). Camus summarizes this in Le Mythe, in which he says, “We value our lives and existence so greatly, but at the same time we know we will eventually die and ultimately our endeavors are meaningless.” Accordingly, humans are incapable of living with the paradox of thinking that their lives are of great importance but knowing they are really meaningless. To Camus, this paradox is what makes life absurd. (Camus, 1991) Furthermore, it is this absurdity that leads to the act of suicide (Flynn, 2006). Camus considers absurdity as a confrontation, an opposition, a conflict, or a “divorce” between two ideals. He describes these ideals in a series of contrasts:

A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly devastated of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger... This divorce between the feelings of absurdity. All healthy men having thought of their own suicide, it can be seen, without further explanation, that there is a direct connection between this feeling and the longing of death. (Camus, 1991)

Specifically, he defines the...
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