Lucas Center Blog

Absurdity of Life

March 22, 2020  / Bill Reynolds, PhD  / Tags: suffering, decency, covid, love, compassion

Philosopher Alain De Botton has an op ed in the NYT today in which he explores the relevance of Camus’s classic novel The Plague to our response to Coronavirus. Here are a couple of passages that resonated with me:

  • “Plague or no plague, there is always, as it were, the plague, if what we mean by that is a susceptibility to sudden death, an event that can render our lives instantaneously meaningless.

This is what Camus meant when he talked about the absurdity of life. Recognizing this absurdity should lead us not to despair but to a tragicomic redemption, a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment and moralizing to joy and gratitude” (italics mine).

 When I read De Botton’s passage quoted below, I couldn’t help thinking about Dr. Anthony Fauci who, at 79 years old, is working 18 hour days to communicate clearly and effectively what this virus will do and what it means for us. (Check out Maureen Dowd’s account of her conversation with Fauci in the NYT this morning. I’m guessing Fauci is going to be somewhat less prominently featured in press conferences to come.)

  • “The doctor works tirelessly to lessen the suffering of those around him. But he is no hero. ‘This whole thing is not about heroism,’ Dr. Rieux says. ‘It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.” Another character asks what decency is. ‘Doing my job,’ the doctor replies.

 During uncertain, disorienting times, we benefit from the insights of philosophers, whose ideas can balance, contextualize, and add depth and nuance to the platitudes of politicians and the detached statistics of scientists. I wonder what our in-house philosophers are thinking? Share your thoughts with the Lucas Center and we’ll post them here.