Martin Heidegger and Albert Camus are two philosophers that talk about existential similarly but in different ways. First, let’s start with a little bit of background on each philosopher. According to Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (iep.utm.edu), Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was acknowledged as one of the most original and important philosophers of the 20th century and rated as one of the most controversial philosopher. His main interest was ontology, the study of being. He is famous for creating and expanding the term da-sein. According to the same source, Albert Camus (1913-1960) was a French-Algerian journalist, playwright, novelist, philosophical essayist, and Nobel Laureate. He was not a philosopher by profession but he made important, forceful contributions to a wide range of issues in moral philosophy in his novels, reviews, articles, essays, and speeches from terrorism and political violence to suicide and the death penalty. He is often described as an existentialist writer. He is famous for creating such a controversial novel story, The Stranger.
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In the book Existentialism by Robert C. Solomon, it was describe that Heidegger’s philosophy is the “problem of being”. This led him to the investigation of being by doing the study on “human being” – “Da-sein” or “being-in-the-world”. From the section Being and Time, Being a Da-sein means that this being is concerned about its very being. Being Da-sein means that one is aware and able to relate to its existence, to be itself or not to be itself. Heidegger describe that Da-sein has a number of characteristics. First, the “essence” of this being lies in it’s to be. The what-ness of this being must be understood in terms of its being, existentia. Second, Da-sein is never to be understood ontologically as a case. The being which this being is always concerned about in its being is always his or her own. Heidegger later describe and link the term Da-sein to the term Angst. Angst was described as the feeling of deep anxiety or dread. This may lead to someone having the feeling of nothingness. It is later stated that in Angst one does not encounter this or that thing which, as threatening, could be relevant.
In the same book, Existentialism by Robert C. Solomon, Albert Camus mentioned the reasoning behind The Absurd and he explain what the absurd is all about. Albert Camus has the idea that there is one truly serious problem in philosophy, suicide. Suicide is a game of answering what is moral and what is immoral, and whether life is worth living or not.
Both Martin Heidegger and Albert Camus mainly talked about what life is, the reasoning why being as a human being is an existence and the importance of the existence itself. Martin Heidegger approach the topic by discussing what da sein is and how Angst can affect one’s life. In the other hand Albert Camus approach the topic by writing the novel, The Stranger and through that novel he describe someone’s existence and what the meaning behind existence truly is.
Martin Heidegger describe Angst as being anxious and that it is about being anxious for is being in the world itself. In Angst, the things at hand in the surrounding world sink away. This being said it means that Angst takes away from Da-sein the possibility of understanding itself falling prey, in terms of the “world and the public way of being interpreted. Angst brings Da-sein before its being free for and the authenticity of its being as possibility which it always already is. Angst is anxious reveals itself as that for which it is anxious: being in the world. Angst extends even to anxiousness itself. Being Da-sein means that one should be presence and being presence means that someone has traits of a being. Angst represent traits of human being because human being has anxiety as part of a trait. When one stop being angst about something, he or she is not being in presence. Da-sein, there-being, is existence, and angst, anxiety always connect to a being’s existent.
Albert Camus talked about the feeling of the absurd. The feeling of absurd means that the state in which human existence is meaningless and that life has no purpose. Galileo as an example, put his life on the line for scientific truth. People sometime are so obsessed with finding an answer that they put answer as the top priority above life itself. For example, there are some real cases that people wonder what happen after one die. People are so obsessed with finding the answer that their life has no meaning and their purpose is only to find the answer. This feeling of absurd may lead them to do whatever it takes to find the answer. “Suicide, like the leap, is acceptance at its extreme. Everything is over and man returns to his essential history.” (Solomon, 193).
From Heidegger and Camus, one can conclude that they have similar point of view when talk about beings. Heidegger describe that to be existence one should have the feeling of Angst. Human should worry about something to be counted as an existence. Camus describe that to be an existence, one might get to the point of being absurd. Both linked to each other. Started from being there, Da-sein, people has something to be anxious about, Angst. After the feeling of Angst, people might go as far as being Absurd, to find the true meaning behind it. Real life example would be for one questioning his or her own existence, they start to worry and think about it. At this stage that person in particular is in the stage of being Angst. If that person can accept the fact of not finding an answer towards it, the subject might go into what Camus describe as absurd, the feeling of nothingness and that life has no meaning if there is no answer towards the question. Then from that point one might put an answer to a question above their existence.
Heidegger lay out the obstacles to authenticity and questioning ones identity in his notion of “The They” (das Man) meanwhile Camus’ novel was related to social conventions and social expectations. Heidegger refers Das Man as not a human being. What he means by the they was the social norms and living rules. It was stated on the book that Das Man refers to one’s state of mind and determines what and how one “sees”. In the novel The Stranger, Meursault’s trial show how his state of mind was. As stated on the novel, Meursault was not showing any emotions that a normal being considered normal. He was not sad over his mother funeral and when he was caught after killing the guy on the beach, he shows no regrets. The point is that he was not behaving as social expectations. People question his state of mind because he was not behaving as the social expected him to. Usually when a relative passed away, there are certain behaviors that normal being will show like sadness. Regret and feeling guilty is also something expected by the society after someone do something horrible like killing another human being. Meursault was not behaving as the notion of Das Man.
All of these relates to Camus’ critique over freedom and self-interpretations in a way that people always see and based their actions of others. People see and they judge. Freedom means one is free to do whatever the subject do without being judge. Das Man, being the social norms and living rules became some sort of invisible guidance that people think everyone should behave like so. It was never stated that one should live according to the Das Man, but it is one of those thing that everyone know and everyone think they should follow so. It is some sort of expectations. Simple way to relate to this is for example, a professor gave students a paper assignments. In a high level education, professors do not need to remind the students to cite if they get something from an outside source because they are expecting the students to know the rules on writing a paper already. Meursault behavior was judge because the society think his behavior does not belong to the society. When people start judging one’s behavior, freedom of expression and self-interpretations are no longer exist.
Heidegger express death as a situation “being-towards-death”. Death is certain and that it cannot be experienced through the death of others. Each Da-sein has their own death. Camus express death by linking it with the absurd. Camus stated “It is only by repeatedly revolting against the absurdity of his predicament, without appeal or hope beyond it, that a human being fully expresses the absurd relationship. Only the person who sees clearly what in the final analysis is his ultimately tragic and trusting situation relative to his world and remains actively unreconciled to it can be said to “live out the absurd.””. Camus see death as something certain and that being absurd is the biggest reason one die. When one feel nothing, they have no point to live and that may lead to death.
Heidegger and Camus agree that death is certain. But they have different approach towards death. Heidegger approach death by saying that Angst may lead to death while Camus say that being Absurd is the thing that lead to death.
Similarities between Heidegger and Camus vary from how overthinking can lead to death to how people’s judgement restrain one’s freedom and self-interpretations. Heidegger has the approach by explaining theoretically and logically with real life examples like Galileo, meanwhile Camus explain his point of view by writing a novel and put us into thinking what is right and what is wrong and how the norms and social rules came in the way between us and judging that subject in particular. Both delivers almost the same conclusion but when combined, they complete each other’s point of view. Heidegger’s theory on Angst became a whole point because of Camus’ theory of the feeling of Absurd, and Camus’ critique on social conventions and expectations became a valid point because of Heidegger’s theory on Das Man, Social rules and norms. In my opinion, one should read both readings by Heidegger and Camus to understand the whole point of why a being exist, and what leads to their death.
- Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time (J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson, Trans.). Harper & Row.
- Camus, A. (1955). The myth of Sisyphus and other essays (J. O'Brien, Trans.). Vintage Books.
- Solomon, R. C. (1974). Existentialism (2nd ed.). Random House.
- Flynn, T. R. (2014). Existentialism: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press.
- Marino, G. (2016). The existentialist's survival guide: How to live authentically in an inauthentic age. HarperOne.
- Guignon, C. B. (Ed.). (2002). The Cambridge companion to Heidegger. Cambridge University Press.
- Bair, D. (2010). Albert Camus: A life. Vintage Books.
- Kaufmann, W. (1975). Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre (2nd ed.). Plume.
- Davenport, J. (2006). Camus's L'Etranger: Fifty years on. Cambridge Scholars Press.
- Moran, D. (2000). Introduction to phenomenology. Routledge.