This Independent Study thesis is divided into three chapters. In the first chapter, “The Absurd, Alienation, and Ethics” I present the central concern of the thesis. If life is absurd, that is to say we take our pursuits as meaningful, but they are found to meaningless, then feeling alienated from ourselves is a rational feeling. And if we feel alienated from our own reasons for action and doubt the things we take seriously, what does that mean for our moral convictions? When we conclude that life is absurd, how should we know how to live?

The second chapter, “Given Absurdity, How Should We Live?” covers potential answers to the posed problem. First, I cover the answers from the existentialists and Camus, radical freedom and rebellion, respectively. And I find reasons to reject these. Second, I discuss the work of several philosophers that pursue ethics from rational self-interest. These authors include Plato (Thrasymachus), Hobbes, and Gauthier. Because the Absurd is founded on rational thought, an ethics starting from rational self-interest could yield an appropriate answer. But ultimately, I reject this thought.

In the third chapter, “Pragmatism and The Role of Philosophy” I discuss an idea that I call the “Humean Split” and how it could apply to our search for meaning. This is an idea that comes from David Hume about separating philosophy and regular spontaneous life. Then I present pragmatism as one last solution to the question of how to live, given absurdity. And finally, I conclude this study by asking about whether we should search for meaning and the efficacy of moral philosophy.


Riley, Evan




Continental Philosophy | Ethics and Political Philosophy


The Absurd, absurdity, ethics

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis


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