An examination of the essay “Myth of Sisyphus” written by the novelist and philosopher, Albert Camus, reveals that objective truths are impossible to know. Camus first explains why one should question the validity of seemingly true things that one is presented with. This reasoning is further explained by understanding the concepts of knowledge and truth and what causes the scepticism Camus has for them. Camus admits that for anything to be true, it must be proven, and consequently cannot be because of the uncertainty of knowledge and truth.
Camus defines life as an absurd confrontation between rational beings in an irrational universe. As rational beings, humans constantly search for truth and meaning. “This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction.” (Camus, 24) A person can only be sure of one’s existence and of the existence of one’s environment. “Between the certainty I have of my existence and the content I try to give to that assurance, the gap will never be filled.” (Camus, 24) If the existence of self and environment are all that one can safely assume to be true, one must reject all other truths. As an existentialist, Camus asserts that since one can’t depend upon the predetermined truths of others, one must realize that no knowledge can be certain and that any meaning we may bring to it is of our own making.
Belief in a fact, however true it may be, does not in itself make the fact true. Knowledge is dependant upon a fact being true and being believed to be true, but not on only one of the two requirements. Something can be known without being true, just as something can be true without being known. “A fact is objective if its truth doesn’t depend on the way anyone’s mind is.” (Sober, 152) Even in science, where learning is based on facts believed to be true, many theories discovered and studied still remain as theories and hypotheses, while still generally accepted as true. (Camus, 25) It was once believed that the sun revolved around the earth. The people of that period in time believed it to be scientific fact. It was thought to be an absolute truth until it was discovered that the earth revolves around the sun. To us, the earth revolving around the sun was the objective truth in question all along. The sun revolving around the earth beforehand was a subjective truth since it was believed to be true, however false in actuality. (FOLDOP) If one continues this reasoning, it is possible that we are incorrect in our belief that the earth revolves around the sun. Our ignorance of something yet unknown to us may be responsible for our believing that the earth revolving around the sun is an absolute truth, when the truth could in fact be something else entirely. Thus belief in a fact does not ensure that it is true.
Since knowledge and truth are uncertain, it is impossible to prove anything is true. Camus notes that Aristotle realized that if one claims everything is true, the opposite argument is true as well and then invalidates the claim. If one asserts then that all is false, then that assertion is false as well. (Camus, 22) It is impossible to classify all facts and beliefs as either all true or all false, as no such claim can be proven without contradicting the argument. “If I judge a thing to be true, I must preserve it. If I attempt to solve a problem, at least I must not by that very solution conjure away one of the terms of the problem.” (Camus, 34) If one asserts something to be true, it must be proven. But, since all knowledge is uncertain, nothing can be proven. If nothing can be proven, it is therefore impossible to know if anything is true.
Camus begins his case by examining the absurdity of life and existence. He points out that no matter how many questions are asked by curious and rational humans, the irrational universe remains silent. As a result, we are uncertain of the knowledge we try to acquire of our world, and realize that nothing we think we know can be definite. To some, this idea leaves existence seeming bleak. However, even though Camus is correct in saying it is impossible to know any absolute truths “Everything considered, a determined soul will always manage.” (Camus, 43)
Works Cited List
Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1975.
Sober, Elliot. Core Questions in Philosophy: A Text With Readings. 1995. Third Ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001.
Funk and Wagnalls. “Camus, Albert”. Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. United States of America: Funk and Wagnals, Inc., 1983
Martin, Robert M. The Philosopher’s Dictionary, Second Edition. Toronto: Broadview Press, 1994.
Egan, David. SparkNote on The Myth of Sisyhpus. April 2003. http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/sisyphus
FOLDOP: Free On Line Dictionary of Philosophy. April 2003. http://www.lgxserve.ciseca.uniba.it/lei/foldop/index.html