One of the oft quoted lines attributed to Socrates while on trial for his life is that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” To prove the point, he was willing to die rather than recant. This is why he drank the hemlock.
Centuries later, Albert Camus, a French existentialist philosopher, examined his life and concluded that life is absurd. He argues his case in a few novels like, The Stranger, and The Fall, and in a collection of essays titled, The Myth of Sisyphus.
Sisyphus, you may recall, is the man of Greek myth, who after tricking Hades, the god of the underworld, was consigned to an eternity of rolling a huge bolder up a steep hill only to watch it roll down the hill again. He would then roll it up the hill again to watch it told back down the hill, ad infinitum.
Several interpreters agree that this story depicts a meaningless repetition that was designed
to drive Sisyphus mad. Albert Camus, who concluded that life was absurd, elevated Sisyphus to the status of “absurd hero” (Wikipedia). I don’t know about the status of “hero.” I think such an eternity would soon drive me mad.
If we take Socrates’ advice and routinely examine our lives but without an appropriate standard against which we can measure ourselves, then we may very well conclude with Mr. Camus that life is absurd.
A question philosophers like ask is whether a person can be good without God. If there is no God, then there is no objective standard. If there is no objective standard then every standard is subjective. There is nothing about what I like or dislike that I could bind on another person, and vice versa. Thomas Warren used to argue that in such a case, you could not say, “Murder is wrong,” but only that, “I don’t like murder.”
Another man examined his life and came up with a different conclusion. He explains,
I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life (Eccl. 2:3).
He searched out everything looking for what is worthwhile in life. His conclusion:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Eccl. 12:13, 14)
I agree with Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” but by what standard are we going to assess our lives? Solomon, the wise man, said that the standard is the word of God. Without God, life may very well be absurd. This is the conclusion Solomon draws in Ecclesiastes.
Have you examined your life lately? If so, according to what standard? And, what have you concluded?