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    Curzon-Hobson, Aidan 2014. Extending the Contribution of Albert Camus to Educational Thought: An analysis of The Rebel. Educational Philosophy and Theory, Vol. 46, Issue. 10, p. 1098.

  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2007

8 - Violence and ethics in Camus


Act 3 scene 6 of Caligula stages a key encounter between Caligula and Cherea, Camus's murderous protagonist and one of his eventual assassins. Here, the two men articulate the ethical impasse at the heart of the philosophy of the Absurd. Caligula suggests that Cherea must believe in 'quelque idée supérieure' (TRN, 78) ('some higher principle' (COP, 83)); Cherea does not entirely accept this, but neither does he entirely deny it:

Cherea: Je crois qu'il y a des actions qui sont plus belles que d'autres.

Caligula: Je crois que toutes sont équivalentes.” (TRN, 78-9)

Cherea: I believe some actions are - shall I say? - more praiseworthy than others.

Caligula: I believe that all are on an equal footing.” (COP, 83)

Cherea uses an aesthetic term rather than a moral one to characterise his position: some actions are 'plus belles' (literally 'more beautiful') than others, not inherently better or more just. Caligula's retort that all actions are equivalent does not necessarily contradict Cherea's argument, since neither man asserts the existence of a higher value which would make it possible to distinguish between one action and another in strictly ethical terms. It is also significant here that neither man seriously tries to persuade the other to change his views. Each states what he believes, but makes no attempt to offer principles, reasons or explanations which would demonstrate the validity of his own opinion. We are presented here with the confrontation of two positions which are coherent within their own terms, but which are utterly incompatible. One man believes that some actions are preferable to others, whilst the other insists that no action has inherent value above any other.

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The Cambridge Companion to Camus
  • Online ISBN: 9781139001397
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