Is there a purpose to our lives?


 have been reading (or rather, trying to read) The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus (2005). It is not easy reading, and I feel that I am in a cloud, and just about able to make out some shapes in the fog. Though the more I read, the more the cloud dissipates.

Camus states that the world which we inhabit is irrational (i.e. there is no reason for it), and yet we, as humans, have "...a wild longing for clarity..." (p.20), and a drive to understand the world. This 'confrontation', or conflict, between the unreasonable world (meaning that it cannot be figured out through reason, as it has no reason) and the need for humans to understand life, gives the concept of the absurd. And that, therefore, life is itself absurd (Camus states that the absurd is a truth; a non-divisible element). He argues that there is no greater (transcendental) life, god, afterlife, spirituality. He writes that these are simply 'leaps' from realising that the world has no meaning, no deeper purpose, yet wanting there to be something greater. Hence, we create 'truths' based on an afterlife or god, which gives us meaning in this life. For example, a medieval christian might say that this life is simply preparation for being with God in heaven. In other words, he might think: "I don't understand what my purpose is on this Earth. But believing in God and there being an afterlife gives me purpose, and hence leading a christian life gives me that purpose. In fact that is the purpose of our lives on this Earth." Camus might understand why this fellow decided to go down that route, but he would argue that this fellow has used spirituality in order to give his life purpose, when in fact there is no purpose to life.

I am unsure of my feelings on Camus's proposition. It has crossed my mind that when I look at the world, there appears to be a lack of reason. There is no reason as to why I should step on this ant and kill it accidentally, or that I should be be hit by a car and die, or live until I am 105. There appear to be no reasons for these things, they simply are. Camus writes "...the attributes of the absurd: unjust, incoherent and incomprehensible." (p.37). Sometimes this is how I feel nature is. It is not fair that a child is born in central Africa with the HIV virus, whilst I am born in the UK free of life-threatening disease. Thus, Camus could be right that the world is absurd, and that therefore, it is unjust.

However, I also feel that one purpose of being here, and alive, is to love and be loved. But, Camus's view would lead to love simply being demoted to an evolutionary necessity. So, we humans need to be in relationship with people to survive, and so we have evolved an emotional tie called love so that man and woman pair together in order to successfully produce offspring. This feels like a very harsh explanation of love. I wonder, though, that Camus might say that I am trying to explain life, rather than simply describe it. I am, again, trying to find meaning in a meaningless world.

I wonder if Camus is specifically saying that there is no external purpose in life. There is no purpose that we are given by some higher being, nature, spiritual forces, etc. But, this does lead to the idea that we can find our own internal meaning for our lives. Why does this not feel like enough though? Why have we, over the course of our existence of millennia, always turned to external forces, such as gods, to give our lives purpose?


Camus, A (2005): The Myth of Sisyphus; translated by Justin O'Brien. Penguin Group.