This month features the fifth inductee into the KineSophy Hall of Fame: philosopher, author and activist Albert Camus. The KineSophy Hall of Fame recognizes real-life individuals who exemplify the ethics of human movement. Previous inductees include Aristotle, Serena and Venus Williams and Bill Russell.
Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in the town of Mondavi, Algeria, which was at that time a territory of France. His family was poor. Lucien, his father, perished in World War I less than a year after Albert’s birth. After his father’s death, his partially deaf mother, Catherine Sintès, moved Albert and his older brother to live with Albert’s grandmother and two uncles in a low-income section of Algiers, where Catherine worked as a cleaning woman.
Despite his impoverished background and illiterate family, Camus excelled in primary school and won a scholarship to the Algiers high school in 1923. As his education developed, he also discovered a love of sports, especially soccer, swimming and boxing. He later attended the University of Algiers, where he studied philosophy and played goalkeeper on the soccer team. Camus would later write: “It was on the playing fields that I learned my only lessons in ethics” (Camus).
Unfortunately, the first of several attacks of tuberculosis ended his athletic career in 1930. Camus moved out of his family’s apartment and lived on his own, supporting himself with a variety of jobs. He then devoted himself to his academic work and by 1936, he had earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in philosophy. He also married Simone Hié in 1935, but their marriage fell apart within a year.
As a student, Camus began to apply his philosophical learning to real-world problems. He joined the French Communist Party and advocated against French colonization and in favor of Algerian independence. He became an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, military aggression and state-sponsored manipulation and violence. When he began to criticize the humanitarian abuses perpetrated by the Soviet Union, his fellow communists accused him of betraying their ideals and Camus left the party.
Camus would continue to put his philosophy into practice as World War II engulfed Europe. When the conflict broke out in 1939, he moved to Paris to write for the Paris-Soir newspaper. After the Nazis captured Paris the following year, Camus joined the newspaper staff in relocating to Lyons. There, he married Francine Faure, a mathematician from Oran, Algeria. They returned to Oran and found work as teachers.
But while he was seeking medical treatment in France in 1942, the Allied invasion of North Africa and the Nazi occupation of France left Camus stranded in Europe. He then moved back to Paris, where he befriended the philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. In Paris, Camus also joined the anti-Nazi Resistance and its underground newspaper, Combat, becoming Editor-in-Chief in 1943. Throughout the war, he wrote and published political commentary, often condemning both sides of the conflict. In 1945, he was one of the few Allied journalists to denounce the American use of the atomic bomb.
In addition to his political journalism, Camus used the war years to launch his career as a novelist. His influential essay The Myth of Sisyphus was published in 1942, along with his most famous novel The Stranger. The former used the Greek myth of Sisyphus to exemplify man’s struggle to find meaning in existence. The latter explored the alienation dividing modern humans in the twentieth century through the portrayal of an outsider condemned to death for murder. In 1947, he published the novel The Plague, set in his new hometown of Oran. In this symbolic tale of a citywide epidemic, Camus advocated for purposeful action, integrity and cooperation, even in the face of mortal danger.
“It was on the playing fields that I learned my only lessons in ethics.”
Though often classified as an existentialist like Sartre and de Beauvoir, Camus’ thought more closely fits the label of absurdism. According to Camus, life is absurd because the importance and meaning we associate with existence contrast with the complete indifference of the universe as a whole. Our lives have meaning to the extent we assign them meaning, not because God, the universe or some other higher power grants us intrinsic value. Camus explored these ideas in the three aforementioned works, along with several plays, novels and short stories. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, becoming the second youngest writer after Rudyard Kipling to do so. At the Nobel ceremony, Camus modestly declared the prize should have gone to André Malraux, his former colleague at Combat.
The Legacy of Albert Camus
Sadly, on January 4, 1960, Camus was killed in a car crash in Burgundy. The accident cut short the promising life of a philosopher and writer whose influence was still growing. Just as we will never know what might have happened had Camus continued to pursue athletics, we will never know what new insights he would have shared with the world if not for his untimely death. And just as his athletic experience influenced his philosophy, Camus’ life and works continue to influence philosophers, politicians, students and writers today.
For his application of lessons in sports to his philosophy, his grasp of the importance of physical action and perseverance, and for applying his intellectual beliefs to real life, KineSophy inducts Albert Camus into its Hall of Fame.
- “Albert Camus.” Biography.com. 16 April 2019. Online. 19 April 2019.
- Camus, Albert. Basic Writings of Existentialism, Ed. Gordon Marino, New York: Modern Library, 2004, p. 437.
- Cavanaugh, Ray. “The Master of the Absurd Turns 100.” Philosophy Now, No. 98 (September/October 2013). Online. 19 April 2019. https://philosophynow.org/issues/98/The_Master_of_the_Absurd_Turns_100.
- Cruickshank, John. “Albert Camus.” Encyclopædia Brittanica. 1 January 2019. Online. 19 April 2019.
- Small, Stephen C. “Albert Camus (1913-1960).” Philosophy Now, No. 110 (October/November 2015). Online. 19 April 2019. https://philosophynow.org/issues/110/Albert_Camus_1913-1960.