Albert Camus, Immanuel Kant, and the Absurdity of Free Will

Sorry long rant, no pictures, boring! But interesting topic, nonetheless.

I have yet to read any of Albert Camus’s famous works, but I have read many bits and pieces from classes and just from friends and the like. What I’ve understood from him is that suicide comes from the intellectual mind. One simply does not commit suicide in knowing so little of the world. But then I think of all the young people in the world who commit suicide and wonder, what did it mean for them? They had yet to experience more of the world, and yet, they decided to end it all without a thought of that?

But then I reflect. I only hold that opinion because it has taken me some time to arise to the same ultimate philosophical question, what I believe Camus points out: There is no meaning to life. “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide” as said by Camus. And there are many ways to arrive at that conclusion, however, the conclusion is always the same: suicide. So what could this possibly mean then?

How is this conclusion so easily understood by so many different minds? There must be a misunderstanding somewhere. But then I think about all of the horrors in the world. Even today Aleppo, Syria. Myanmar, Pakistan, North Korea, United States, all around the world atrocities are being committed by people human beings put in power. How is this even fathomable?

But that is the thing, we don’t want to think about it because we arrive at the same philosophical conclusion: there is no meaning to life. Because what is the meaning of our Mercedes-Benz only to find out that you have an incurable disease and will die in a couple of days? What is the meaning of your infinite expansive knowledge of maths and science only to realize that you yourself are just a tiny speck of star dust floating in the universe? What is the meaning of your gorgeous skin and illuminating eyelashes, only for it to be wiped away at the end of the day? Where is the meaning to these things? And once we arrive at the conclusion, where do we go?

Albert Camus died in a freak accident along with his publisher who died a few days later. The wife of the publisher survived the crash, but I imagine was scarred from the accident. A simple worn out tire, lack of care, love for speed, a trust unexpected, they had a close relationship, Camus trusted his publisher Michael Gallimard, but Gallimard didn’t take precautions for life as Camus always had.

It’s said from the wife who survived the crash that Gallimard was driving quite fast, and Camus had asked him why he was in such a hurry. It was also said before the accident that Camus had always been weary of fast traveling cars. He had once said, “There is nothing more meaningless than dying in a car accident.” And this is to be understandable. He was a survivor of being an outsider, an outcast, never quite fitting in. And yet he had made a career for himself, escaped the clutches of poverty, and was enjoying life with his wife and two kids. He reads, “When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” Why would he risk it all? But life is meaningless. The police were reported to have found a new book Camus was writing a piece called Le Premier Homme in which was to be one of his greatest writing yet. It was published later by his daughter.

Fundamentally, life is meaningless, until we find that which gives it meaning. And I believe that is what German Idealist Immanuel Kant thought as well. He believed that through reason alone we could find the meaning to life. Through using reason we could finally understand that the meaning to life is ultimately the invincible summer that lies within my mind. The provocative grasp of imagination intertwined with the fragility of life. The only meaning you give to life can come from the imagination in which you see the smiling faces of the ones you love.

Camus indefinitely understood this. I mentioned before, I have yet to read his writings, which once I have done so, I will write again. But in the mean time, this is a precursor to my readings I suppose. It is my understanding that Camus understood the fragility of life through the concept of revolt. What I understand from revolt is the unprecedented desire to overcome that which you thought you never would be able to overcome. Through oppression of free will, one’s desire to revolt consumes their souls. But this feeling of revolt is in every aspect of life, just as how meaningless life is.

When the young boy wants to eat another slice of cake, he screams in revolt. When the Government uses their armies to stop peaceful protesters, they lash out in revolt. When the black slave finally understands his equality, he breaks free and revolts. No matter who the person is, the act of revolting is caused from the suppression of free will. This is a concept in which Immanuel Kant stresses as well.

Kant believed, while not originally so, that human beings were rational beings who had their own free will and it was given to us through reason. Because we can use our reason to enact on our free will, we can then use our reason to understand the free will and how it works. By doing so we can then see how we should act when we interact with one another. And by doing that, we come to Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which basically states that you should only do an action in which you believe should be done to yourself as well.

This is the first act of empathetic thoughts. You must first think of how you would feel if you were the other person, if you cannot imagine yourself accepting the circumstances you are giving, then it certainly cannot be the case that this is the moral thing to do. This becomes a universal law for Kant. A universal law then means that it applies to every single human being. Therefore, if it is a universal law to use the categorical imperative to make moral rules that govern your actions, then how is it the case that there are so many killings and deaths today? Free will.

Do you see the irony and meaningless to life now? Free will engulfs our minds in the ability to control our environment and the people around us. But in doing so enslaves other minds in a realm of revolt and suppression. However, Kant, and I think Camus, discovered the solution to the sufferings in the world: Morality. Through moral nature we could express our happiness while also promoting the happiness of others. By doing good deeds we set an example to others to follow suit and do the same actions. And once that moral behavior, once that goodness to look out for your neighbor, becomes common practice, that invincible summer becomes a reality. And not just in a Utopian imaginative sense, but a very real empirical sense of the now. The smiling faces of the ones you love, the laughter of the crowd you please, the look of satisfaction from the child you just fed. All of these invincible summers become realities if we just make them our goals.

But how can we protect ourselves from the absurdity of life? Of the random happenings? Well, it’s simple. We can’t. So we realize we must make the best of our lives. But when we become suppressed from enacting that realization, we act in revolt. And so the cycle continues of oppression and revolt, oppression and revolt, oppression and revolt. Camus believed that the answer to this was finding meaning to one’s life whatever that it may be. But I believe that Kant refines this definition by giving ailments to such absurdities through judicial law and moral constitution.

What is moral constitution then? Moral constitution is what drives your actions. Basically, your moral constitution is your free will deciding what is right and what is wrong. When your mind tells you don’t do that, it’s wrong, that’s your moral constitution telling you so. And this is only made through experience. But it’s not bound to any law or physical constraint, you are simply free to think what you like. And Kant understood that, he saw the very nature of free will and realized that we must all have free will then. If we can all think about our actions and what to make right and wrong, we must all be of the same thing.

Think of it like this I am a part of a line segment, i.e. “- – – – -” I realize that I have the same ability to do the things the other segments can do, they also have the same ability to do the thing I can do. I don’t know exactly if they are like me, but they look pretty similar, and I do know that they have the same ability to do the same thing I can do. How is this so? Through experience.

Everyday we experience new things, we see news on the TV, we read journals on the internet. We learn all of these experiences and we process them into our moral constitutions. Kant saw that by doing so, we were creating our own laws and rules, these he called hypothetical imperatives. These imperatives were like personal guidebooks that could be used in any given situation, insofar as it was beneficial to yourself. For example, you are very hungry and you see that you could easily steal someones wallet for some money. You think to yourself, “Well I wouldn’t want anyone to take my wallet, but i hungry, I’ll steal it this one time.” this is a prime example of a hypothetical imperative. Because if this were universalized, which Kant believes all laws should be, it would ensue that the world would always steal whenever they were hungry, which would be all the time. This simply could not be the case for Kant. Thus, he created his Categorical Imperative which gives people the guidelines to understanding empathy and thinking about others when doing actions.

But how does this all tie back in with Camus? Well Camus believed the same. While not explicitly stating the words of Kant (to my knowledge), Camus understood the fundamental equality of all human beings. He understood the universality of free will in all humans. People were free to revolt against their oppressors, people were free to shoot themselves in the head, people were free to oppress other people and harass them. It was all free to do what you like. But I believe Camus had a harder time realizing this. He had understood the nature of free will, but through oppression. While Kant had realized this from his ivory tower in one of the strongest countries to be established, Prussia. Once again the fragility of life shines. You can come to the same conclusion from an ivory tower and also from the slums of Algeria. Do not mistake my term for ivory tower however, what I mean by that is simply the fact that Kant had a better life than Albert Camus presumably. Kant was a devout scholar who worked tirelessly on his writings, while Camus was a journalist and free actor who loved the extremities of life (with a touch of understanding). But something I think they both could agree upon is the belief that if you wouldn’t do it to yourself, don’t do it to others.

So where does that leave the reader then? Realizing the fragility of life, finding meaning in anything that gives meaning, understanding the equality of free will? All of these things are hard to wrap your head around at first glimpse. But once you understand the first and most fundamental question in philosophy as Camus famously says, “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide” you start to see the others start to fill in the places.

The absurdity of life compels me to bring order to that which has no order. But by doing so I compel others to revolt against my actions. Thus only once my actions become a categorical imperative for all others to understand, will the absurdity of life finally allow the reason to entertain the idea of death. That was way too abstract.

Life is meaningless until we give it meaning, but if that meaning is at the expense of oppressing other people, that only leads to their revolt and more oppression. Therefore, I can only start to give meaning to life if that meaning can be understood and willed by other people. Because at the end of the day, we all just want to live life without thinking about death.

Immanuel Kant gives us the answer to this problem. If we use the universality of reason to make sense of our actions, then we can start making laws that fit the agenda of every human being, so we can give meaning to our lives which gives us happiness. I put meaningless in quotes because life is imply meaningless until you give it meaning. But remember, if that meaning is at the expense of another, it will cause revolt and oppression. So with the categorical imperative, we apply a moral meaning to our lives in which everyone can follow as well.

Reason -> Free Will -> Empathy/Categorical Imperative -> Make Universal Judicial Laws and Policies -> Everyone benefits and can enjoy meaning in their lives. That is how I view Kant’s moral philosophy. It gives meaning to the absurd reality of free will. If I want to enjoy life to the fullest and I want to give meaning to life, but my government prevents me from doing so, how will I ever be happy? That is exactly the problem today.

In society today we are bound by these hypothetical imperatives in which only certain .01% of the people on this planet benefit from. If we are all equal in being and rationality, then how is this justice? How can we leave the 99.99% of the population to starve and suffer until they die, while we sit in our ivory towers enjoying our Starbucks coffee and gourmet microwave dinners. I am not trying to shame, because I believe that is what we all should enjoy, but only if we can all enjoy it.

That also doesn’t mean to stop enjoying your life either though, you are the only one who can ultimately give meaning to your life, so you must enjoy it. But that also means you automatically assume the responsibility of making it your mission to universalize this imperative. You must make it your goal in life to allow others to enjoy the same things you are enjoying so everyone can enjoy. And in doing so, not only will you bring happiness to others, you will bring happiness to yourself. Because kindness and good will are reciprocal, you become happy from simply doing the act itself, you have finally given meaning to empathy, which gives meaning to life, which goes back into happiness, which causes empathy and the paradox of happiness continues.

That’s all for today.

Thanks.

CK

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