Albert Camus (1913-1960)
Algeria and France

Albert Camus was born in Mondovi, Algeria, a colony of France. His family lived in very poor conditions, especially after his father died fighting in WWI. The poverty of his younger years greatly influenced his philosophy and he developed a sense of sympathy for all people. Despite his very poor conditions at home, Camus was a good student and his teacher, Louis Germain, helped him get a scholarship to go to a good high school, which helped him get into college. When he became the second youngest person to win a Nobel Prize in 1957, he dedicated it to his teacher, Germain. The poor living conditions he had to deal with growing up led to his greatest physical challenge - tuberculosis. He would battle it for the rest of his life. During his adult life, Camus worked as a newspaper editor for various newspapers. During WWII, he was living in Paris and working for the French Residence when he became friends with Andre Gide, a French novelist and Nobel Prize winner, and Jean Paul Sartre, a French philosopher. Camus was a member of the Communist Party, but became disenchanted by their lack of concern for people. He died in a car accident in 1960. Ironically, he had said earlier in his life that he could think of nothing more meaningless than dying in a car accident.

While Camus worked for the French resistance, he wrote and edited for the Resistance newspaper, Combat, where he formalized his philosophy that all life is sacred and encouraged his readers to live by strict moral principals. Camus believed that life was absurd -- defying logical explanation and irrational, but Sartre and other philosophers of his time, he still believed that in spite of its absurdity, life was valuable and worth defending. "When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." He believed that life is an adventure without final meaning, but still worth experiencing. Since there is nothing besides life, people need to live life to the fullest and find meaning in human existence. "If, after all, men cannot always make history have meaning, they can always act so that their own lives have one." Although he was an atheist and did not believe in sin, he stated, "If there is a sin against life, it consist perhaps not so much in despairing of life as hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life."

Perhaps the most famous quote attributed to Camus expresses his value of human life, "Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me and just be my friend."

Some of Camus' books:
     The Stranger
     The Myth of Sisyphus
     The Plague
     The Rebel*
     Reflections on the Guillotine*

*Camus received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 based on these works.

Discussion Questions

How would Camus have answered the question: "Which is more powerful, love or hate?"

How might Camus' views on life have changed if he had grown up in wealth instead of poverty?

What would Camus say to people who complain about their lives?

What would Camus say about the War in Iraq? Why? What would he say about the war against Terror? How would his feelings differ? Why?

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