THE ETHICS OF ALBERT CAMUS
The aim of the paper here presented is to reconstruct the ethical views of Camus and to provide an account of their evolution. Wherever Camus’s axiological convictions closely correspond to his philosophical cogitations, and where the latter appear to present evidence of Camus’s efforts to find theoretical ground for the former the article also supplies information concerning the philosophical ideas of the author of ‚Le Mythe de Sisyphe’.
The reconstruction results have been collected into three chapters (Chapter Two of the original paper is not included in the present publication, being substituted for by a brief summary), responding to the three successive stages of evolution of Camus’s moral views. Thus, then, Chapter One discusses the axiological principles of his ethics in the years 1937-1942: at that period Camus, affirming the individual as the highest value, essays to deliver him from the degrading necessities governing social life. For that purpose he constructs the ‚experience of the absurd’, a sui generis cognitive operation by means of which the individual attains full cognitive autonomy and hence’ also moral autonomy. At the same time he discovers his own ‚nature’, which is made up of his elementary needs. Realized, those needs enable the individual to achieve a sense of gratification, which Camus considers to be the only value accessible to the man who has gone through the stage of the experience of the absurd’.
Further evolution of the moral doctrine of Camus was decisively affected by his own personal experience during the war period. An obvious manifestation of that evolution can be seen in the years 1942-1947 when, on the one hand, Camus condemned moral nihilism – i. e. the very trend he had himself shared, since in the light of the ‚experience of the absurd’, all rules were equivalent and therefore invalid, as no grounds could be provided for them by reference to any universal scale of values; and on the other hand, in place of the egoistic individualism that bad characterized his former moral opinions whereby only exceptional individuals were supposed to represent moral values, Camus instituted egalitarian individualism whereby each and every individual was to be regarded as the highest value, with the individual’s needs serving as the only criterion for moral conduct.
And finally, the last stage of the evolution of Camus’s views, coinciding with the years 1948-1957. It is then that Camus tries to integrate the two contradictory tendencies in his past ethical thought. At the same time, observing that certain moral values become alienated in social life, and seeing in that process of alienation the sole source of evil, Camus tries to devise some such normative solution as would prevent any further reification of the individual within society. It is undoubtedly these last-quoted observations and postulates that belong to the most valuable of Camus’s achievements in the field of ethics. It is to them, to their estimate and to the estimate of their utility in social practice of Marxism, that the concluding part of the present paper is chiefly devoted. A general delineation of Camus’s moral doctrine, as well as an attempt at confrontation of that doctrine with the traditions of anarchism, are also included.
Tłum. M. Galon