The Meaning Of Life And The Philosophical Question Of Suicide

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Rick and Morty, by Justin Roiland, is an animated science fiction series about the never-ending adventures of Rick Sanchez, a genius alcoholic and a careless scientist, alongside with him is his grandson Morty, an anxious and rather blatantly unintelligent teenager. Who together, they explore the infinite universes leaving remnants of havoc behind and almost always running into trouble. While exploring deeper connected themes, one scene where Morty approaches his sister summer in her state of a teenage crisis, they find out that they both share equally unsettling experiences. Morty previously buried his own body, and Summer found out that she was an accident. This is when he delivers the quote “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s going to die”. Summer willingly accepts this. This statement alone fuels and steers a discernible philosophical issue: regarding existentialism. So this begs the question. Given that each and every one of us possesses the responsibility of making our own conscious decisions if the world we live in has lost all meaning, should we take advantage of this free will which we have over ourselves and commit suicide? This essay will attempt to answer this question by comparing two very well known philosophers’ ideas. John-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus yet elaborating on the different perception of suicide by Albert Camus.

Søren Kierkegaard, a founding figure of existentialism believed that human being’s relationship with God must be achieved triumphantly, with a matter of inputting devotion and suffering through sacrificial decision making in the face of sheer difficulty. John-Paul sartre was the first prominent existentialist philosopher to adopt the term as a self-description his obsession between humanism and metaphysics led him to believe otherwise of preconceived beliefs of existentialism. Yet, to Kierkegaard, human life is paradoxical and absurd and that to confront this absurdity is to become truly human. I would hold the same position that Albert Camus does, being an Absurdist yet classified as an existentialist despite his denial of it, would believe that the absurd originates from a combination of the way we want the world to be and the way the world actually is. To Camus, despite there being specific human experiences which evoke notions of absurdity. Such a realization with, or otherwise encounter with the absurd leaves the individual with a choice. Physical suicide, a leap of faith, or recognition.

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For Camus when we choose to elude life in the most literal way, we commit physical suicide. We also in doing so, choose to make a confession that life is not worth living and embracing, because it is a choice which offers the most basic way out, as it has to do with the immediate response to terminate oneself and one’s place in the universe where they essentially belong. Reflecting on the definition of the absurd, ultimately, when there is disharmony between the search for meaning and meaninglessness of the universe, this is what conclusively results in decisions otherwise.Yet both Camus and Kierkegaard would agree and criticise a person who ends their own life, holding that this option is not viable, as it doesn’t counter the absurd in the first place. Instead, ending their existence causes their existence to become more absurd than it previously was. In the act of eluding, we are offered the hope of possibility, Camus states that suicide is of little use to us, claiming that there can be no more meaning in death than in life.

On the contrary, John Paul Sartre criticises absurdist beliefs with support of existentialism. Existentialism talks about existence, and how it is preceded by essence (meaning). In philosophy, we recognize the essence as what makes an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by obligation, and without which it loses its identity, In the sense that, essences are non-physical and eternal standards to which things conform. Likewise, the essence of a human being is what determines what a human being is like, or in other words, essence determines our living. However, instead of suggesting that it is our essence which determines our living “essence precedes existence”. Sartre reverses this into the notion that “existence precedes essence”. Expressing the idea that we are who we make ourselves and not who we are pre-determine to be. Sartre elaborates from Kierkegaard’s perspective in order to draw a parallel with the existence of humans before their purpose. Yet emphasizing the idea that our actions make us who we are as humans. Sartre exclaims that we have the assigned roles of embracing two different types of being. He termed the first type of being-for-itself, whereas the latter being-in-itself. These two differ in many ways, The for-itself is forced to create itself from nothingness, possessing meaning only through its everlasting incursion into the unknown future, and is conscious of its own consciousness, but isn’t complete. Whereas the in-itself not only lacks the ability to transcend but cannot think as it lacks consciousness. As such being said, too many including Sartre himself, existence is problematic yet Sartre’s explanation of this does not a drawback, to the prevailing challenge of the meaning of being. Sartre believes in the notion of being of the phenomenon as providing grounding, just as the being of the phenomenon transcends the phenomenon of being. Consciousness also transcends it. Sartre then proclaims that there is perceiving, so with that being said, there must be a consciousness doing the perceiving. If Sartre is right and if this aspect that our lives are essentially up to us is valid, then existentialists must also be committed to a prosperous kind of freedom since they are not determined by what happens to us.

Each person creates the essence of their life; life is not determined by a supernatural god or superior authority, one is considered free. As such one’s ethical first orders consist of action, freedom, and decision, so existentialism opposes rationality. In seeking meaning to life, existentialists look where people find meaning in life, but if the irrational universe doesn’t present meaning to us then where should we explore next? Going back to Kierkegaard, he sees life as profoundly absurd, due to its central lack of meaning. Thereby saying that we take “a leap of faith”, pointing to a state which a person is faced with a choice that cannot be justified rationally and therefore they must leap into it, this builds off from a paradoxical contradiction between religion and ethics, inherently arguing that belief in God will ultimately provide one’s life with meaning. Camus in this aspect rejects appeals to the transcendent, as for him, the absurd is rather the “divorce” between us and the world. Taking the definite representation of the inescapable human condition. In place of the false hope of religious attachment, Thus, Camus urges a vivid awareness of the absurd and a form of rebellion.

To Sartre, each person comes equipped with unlimited freedom. Physical and social constraints cannot be overlooked in the way in which we make choices. Freedom is rather to be understood as a characteristic of the nature of consciousness. To Sartre; there is more to freedom. To express this, Sartre presents his idea of freedom as building up to making choices, and not being able to avoid making choices. He sais “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world he is responsible for everything he does” It would seem that the standards which one could be free to forge their own essence as they please, is simply a matter of conforming to some rooted standards which we can never be sure if we have made the right or wrong choices. Sartre belittled the idea of living without pursuing one’s freedom. He claimed that the phenomenon of people accepting that things have to be a certain way, and subsequently refusing to acknowledge or pursue alternate options, was what he termed to be “bad faith”. According to Sartre, bad faith occurs when we lie to ourselves in order to spare ourselves from short-term pain. But thereby suffer from long-term psychological impoverishment. Sartre would claim that acting inauthentically involves excusing oneself from responsibility by ignoring freedom. Whereas through authenticity, one can assess the possible decisions given at hand. This proves that we are perfectly capable of telling from within our own activities whether we are acting authentically or inauthentically. Sartre promoted money to be the one factor which restricts an individual’s freedom. He reasoned that the need for money, is the excuse individuals give to themselves when they avoid the idea of investigating atypical life choices. He compared capitalism to a machine which captures individuals in a cycle of working occupations which they don’t like so they can get things they don’t need. Sartre argues that this necessity of material things did not previously exist in reality, however, was a synthetic construct that led people to deny their freedom, and thus having to consider living in ways other to previously.

Having rejected this argument, in my view it would seem more tolerable to believe that just like Camus, we should shift our interests in this case in determining whether and how to live in the face of the absurd to the same as how Camus would want us to believe. In Camus’s view, the absurd is an unavoidable, defining, characteristic of the human condition, the only proper response to it is what Camus calls full, unflinching courageous acceptance. In other words, accepting the absurd is a solution in which an individual embraces absurdity, and continues to through this. One can achieve the greatest measure of their own freedom, by recognizing non-moral or religious constraints, they should revolt against the absurd by paradoxically, always admitting its presence, we must also acknowledge the absurd, and understand that humankind will not get any genuine answers that solve the question of the meaning of life. “The Myth of Sisyphus” primarily being the critique of existentialism highlights the attempts by thinkers to overcome the observed by appealing to God or the transcendent. Camus’s belief is that these thinkers presuppose that life is absurd in some way, but proposing a solution to the absurd only leads them to contradict themselves. Those who try to endure the meaningless of life by imposing meaning on it, are themselves doomed to failure over the long run. As the universe remains indifferent to us, random events happen which we cannot always explain, and we will again face meaninglessness. The Myth of Sisyphus is a Greek myth. The king of Ephyra was punished by the gods, left in the underworld, sentenced to roll a boulder up a hill, which just before reaching the summit would fall back down again. He would have to do this for eternity, but Camus claims that it is not the torment itself, but the consciousness of it that makes the experience so excruciatingly bad for Sysiphus, and the choice to engage in it over and over for the rest of eternity. Camus argues that Sisyphus’s consciousness of his own pointless fate is what makes the myth tragic, yet the awareness that constitutes his torture at the same time crowns his triumph, in his terms “we must imagine Sisyphus happy” which then labels him as the absurd hero because Sisyphus is then the person who can truly know that life is absurd and get through it with a smile, that’s what makes an absurd hero. When Sisyphus pushes on, in doing so he becomes a greater icon of the spirit of revolt and of the human condition. For Sartre, absurdity is a fundamental ontological property of existence itself, frustrating us but not restricting our understanding, to him absurdity is not a property of existence as such but is an essential feature of our relationship with the world. Even if we continue to live without irrational appeals, the desire to do so is already built into our consciousness and thus our humanity. In this case, no experience of life is inherently more meaningful than any other. People should ultimately strive for as much utility out of living which they can obtain for themselves He tells us, for the absurd hero is able to carry out life as meaningless as eternally rolling a boulder up a hill and find enjoyment in it anyway.

So if life is constituted of meaninglessness and we really are all going to die, as Morty says, then what should we conclusively do when confronting Absurdity? Now John Paul Sartre would suggest that our decisions are completely limited to ourselves, and that “existence precedes essence” meaning that through authenticity we create meaning in our lives and should avoid bad faith in this process, as long as we aren’t physically or mentally constrained. Whereas the perspective I can draw from this is the same as Camus, simply no, but he suggests this shouldn’t be a for us, we are still alive and have every right and ability to enjoy ourselves, in Camus’ point of view life is worth living and should be embraced as it is. Now, while it may be difficult to accept and face meaninglessness without retreating, or eluding to the accepting atmosphere of religion, society, science, or even trying to produce meaning. Camus would just encourage us to be brave and just like Sisyphus, face the absurd, but with a smile on our face. So there you have it, suicide should never be an option, and if it is, well it isn’t because in doing so you are only fleeing from what is bound to happen regardless ceteris paribus. 


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