Camus and Nihilism

Sophia 50 (4):543-559 (2011)
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Abstract

Camus published an essay entitled ‘Nietzsche and Nihilism,’ which was later incorporated into The Rebel . Camus' aim was to assess Nietzsche's response to the problem of nihilism. My aim is to do the same with Camus. The paper explores Camus' engagement with nihilism through its two major modalities: with respect to the individual and the question of suicide in The Myth of Sisyphus , and with respect to the collective and the question of murder in The Rebel . While a Nietzschean influence thoroughly suffuses both books, it is in the second that Camus' most explicit, and most critical, engagement with the German philosopher takes place. The crux of Camus' critique of Nietzsche is that the absolute affirmation of existence he proposes as a response to nihilism cannot say ‘no’ to murder. In the terms of Camus' discussion in The Rebel , Nietzsche's philosophy is thus culpable in the straying of rebellion from its own foundations and its slide into bloody revolution. First, the paper argues that Camus' criticisms of Nietzsche are misplaced. Camus focuses his analysis on sections of the problematic text The Will to Power and misses important sections of Nietzsche's published texts which in fact support the condemnation of revolution which is the project of The Rebel . However, the paper argues that Camus moves beyond Nietzsche in radically democratizing the response to nihilism. While Nietzsche's hopes for the creation of meaning are focused on exceptional individuals, Camus insists that any response to nihilism needs to be accessible to the average person. Such a move is laudable, but it raises a number of questions and challenges regarding the type of problem nihilism is, and how these might be addressed

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Ashley Woodward
Dundee University

References found in this work

Nietzsche and Philosophy.Gilles Deleuze & Michael Hardt (eds.) - 1983 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Pathmarks.Martin Heidegger (ed.) - 1998 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
The absurd.Thomas Nagel - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (20):716-727.
The Myth of Sisyphus.Albert Camus - 1957 - Philosophical Review 66 (1):104-107.

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