The Stranger, written by Albert Camus, is an existentialist novel about a man who struggles to understand his free will. Camus’ personal philosophy is portrayed throughout the entire novel through the actions of the main character, Monsieur Meursault. For the entire book, Meursault does not conform well into normal society. For example, he does not mourn his mother’s death. He also does not feel any regret after murdering a man who did not deserve to be murdered. However, at the end of the novel, he finally grasps the fact that he has his own truth, or his own free will, and he ends up dying for his own version of the truth.
Throughout the novel, Camus injects his own personal epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical views into Monsieur Meursault, which can be compared and contrasted against other philosopher’s beliefs. One major theme throughout The Stranger is the notion of Meursault’s free will. He has chosen his life the way he wants it to be, even if the rest of society does not agree with his choices. At the end of the novel, Meursault says, “It was as if I had waited all this time for this moment and for the first light of this dawn to be vindicated” (Camus, p. 121).
This sentence is explaining that Meursault finally understands that he has free will, and the reason that his life is this way is because he chose it to be this way. This also means that Meursault would learn what he chose to learn, or vice versa. I believe that Jean-Paul Sartre and Camus have a similar philosophy when it comes to epistemology. After being asked about ethical advice from a young man, Jean-Paul Sartre replied by saying, “You are free, therefore choose—that is to say, invent” (Sartre, p. 255). Throughout the entire novel, Meursault was free to do as he chose.
He invented his own ersion of the life he wanted to live. However, I do not believe that Camus and Rene Descartes’ views on epistemology were very similar. Descartes believes that God is the reason that knowledge exists and that humans have knowledge already placed in them by God at birth. He explains, “And indeed it is no surprise that God, in creating me, should have placed this idea in me to be, as it were, the mark of the craftsman stamped on his work” (Descartes, p. 203). This is completely the opposite of Camus’ view on epistemology. First off, Camus is an atheist, which is clearly represented in Meursault.
A chaplain tried to talk to Meursault, but he continued to deny wanting to speak with him. The chaplain then forced Meursault to speak with him and ask him why he would not speak to him. Meursault replied that he “didn’t believe in God” (Camus, p. 116). Camus would reject the fact that God placed knowledge into humans before birth since he does not even believe in God. Secondly, Meursault would not be able to have true free will if he was restricted by religion. Whenever someone believes in a certain religion, they are giving up their free will to live by the standards of that religion.
Camus also goes on to portray his metaphysical views in Meursault throughout The Stranger. Camus would argue that we are all going to be held responsible for our actions made through our free will. Meursault was held responsible for his action he took against the Arab man when he was on trial for murdering him. At the end of the trial, the judge read the verdict to Meursault. He then said to the reader, “the presiding judge told me in bizarre language that I was to have my head cut off in a public square in the name of the French people” (Camus, p. 107).
One philosopher that would agree with Camus’ metaphysical argument is Jeffrey Olen. Olen explains that we “love, contemplate, write and read poetry, for example, and are held morally responsible for our actions” (Olen, p. 88). In The Stranger, Meursault was held morally responsible for his actions by the verdict of the trial. On the other hand, I do not believe that Camus would agree with Rene Descartes would agree with each other’s view on metaphysics. Descartes explains that “I am distinct from my body, and can exist without it” (Descartes, p. 71).
However, when it comes to Meursault, he is actually facing the reality of death. Plus, since he does not believe in an afterlife, once his life is over, there is nothing else for him to look forward to. The chaplain asked Meursault if he had ever wished for another life, referring to an afterlife, and Meursault responded by saying, “of course I had, but it didn’t mean any more than wishing to be rich, to be able to swim faster, or to have a more nicely shaped mouth” (Camus, p. 119-120). Meursault believes that once this life ends, there is not another life that awaits him.
This goes back to the subject of free will. Meursault is trying to explain to the chaplain he does not believe in an afterlife because he does not believe in God. Believing in God would force him to give up his free will, which he is not going to do. Meursault is also used to portray Camus’ view on ethics. Throughout The Stranger, Meursault is portrayed poorly by the rest of society. Society did not understand why Meursault did not mourn at his own mother’s funeral. This was even brought up during Meursault’s trial by the prosecutor.
Meursault also did not conform with society since he did not regret killing the Arab man. Meursault’s lawyer tries to bring the focus of the trial back to the murder of the Arab man instead of why Meursault did not mourn at his mother’s funeral when saying, “Come now, is my client on trial for burying his mother or for killing a man? ” (Camus, p. 96). However, this attempt by the lawyer did not succeed because society is too enamored as to why Meursault is so different than the rest of them. I believe that Camus would agree with Herodotus about their views on ethics.
Herodotus, author of The Histories, explains to his readers that different cultures have different ways of doing certain tasks. One culture may believe that a certain task is immoral while another culture may think it to be moral. Herodotus quotes Pindar when saying, “Custom is the king o’er all” (Herodotus, p. 425). The society in The Stranger so interested in the fact that Meursault did not follow society’s “customs” that he is being put to death for not mourning at his mother’s funeral. On the other hand, I do not believe that Camus would agree with Leo Tolstoy.
Tolstoy is a believer of the divine command theory, which means that any action is either commanded or forbidden by God. He is quoted as saying, “Without religion there can be no real sincere morality, just as without roots there can be no real flower” (Tolstoy, p. 409). Tolstoy is trying to convince the reader that anybody who is not religious cannot be a moral person. Under this idea, Meursault would not be considered a moral person since he is an atheist. In The Stranger, the chaplain tries to get Meursault to understand that he needs to rid himself of his sins.
Meursault says that “According to him, human justice was nothing and divine justice was everything. I pointed out that it was the former that had condemned me” (Camus, p. 118). This is important because, again, Meursault denies the existence of God, and implies that divine justice is not the reason he is being put to death. The chaplain tried to use the divine command theory to convince Meursault, but since religion would cause him to relinquish his free will, he denies the existence of a “divine justice. ”
Throughout the novel The Stranger, Albert Camus reflects his personal views on philosophy through the main character, Monsieur Meursault. It is clear to any reader that has studied philosophy that Camus’ views on epistemology are similar to Jean-Paul Sartre, his views on metaphysics are similar to Jeffrey Olen, and his views on ethics are similar to Herodotus. It is also clear that Camus would not agree with Rene Descartes or Leo Tolstoy. In all, I was surprised about how well Camus had transpired his philosophical views into the novel. The Stranger opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about the world.