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Camus, Absurdism, Nihilism with Ray Boisvert – Presented by the Camden Philosophical Society

Tuesday, September 19, 2023 @ 6:00 pm 7:30 pm

The Camden Philosophical Society is sponsoring a talk and open discussion on mid-20th Century French philosopher, author and activist Albert Camus and his attempt to move beyond the nihilism he saw as characteristic of his age. On Tuesday, September 19, at 6:00 pm in the Picker Room of the Camden Public Library, the talk will be by professor emeritus and Midcoast Maine resident Ray Boisvert, author of Albert Camus and the Philosophy of the Ordinary. All are welcome to attend. No expertise in philosophy is required, only interest in thinking and learning. 

Ray Boisvert

Camus is often identified as a philosopher of “absurdism.” Boisvert suggests that this is a theme limited to Camus’ early works, such as The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus. When we pay attention to Camus’s whole corpus, Boisvert says, it is clear that his real target – identified in his famed acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957 — was “nihilism.”

Nihilism as a concept has largely passed from common discussion, but in Camus’ time it was “used to signal that life is objectively meaningless, and that all meaning is subjective,” Boisvert has written. Camus’ aim was to challenge this and, instead, to pose the question “What should I do?” This is particularly clear in Camus’ novel The Plague, which brought this once well-known and popular novelist and dramatist back into public attention at the time of the Covid pandemic.    

Boisvert, however, goes on to argue that Camus was unable to carry out his project of persuasively countering nihilism because he never got beyond his Cartesian starting point: the “Great Bifurcation.”  A serious move beyond nihilism requires a major ontological shift that Boisvert calls “rehabilitation of the ordinary,” something Camus never made, while philosophers whose lives overlapped with his moved in the needed direction. Examples cited by Boisvert are Charles Sanders Peirce, Martin Heidegger, Alfred North Whitehead, Jose Ortega y Gasset, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Besides his work on Camus, Boisvert has written a number of books on philosophy and food, and on the philosophy of John Dewey in the contemporary context.

The Camden Philosophical Society has been reading and debating the works of philosophers from antiquity to the present for more than 15 years. It holds hybrid meetings, in-person at the Camden Public Library and on Zoom, from 3:30-5:30 on the third Tuesday of each month. For more information in the group’s activities contact Sarah Miller at sarahmiller@usa.net.

55 Main Street
Camden, ME 04843 United States