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Sartre, Camus, and the Death of Innocence

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The end of the Age of Innocence was, as is to be expected, a time of great disillusionment and horror in the progress of human technology. From the scientific perspective, the ideas of Newton, which had fit so well and so simply into a smaller point of view of the universe, had been destroyed due to advancements in both micro and macro technology which allowed for the true complexities of the universe to be observed. As such, those closely held ideas must be let go and new ideas must be found, creating new devices such as the telephone, telegraph, airplane, and internal combustion engine. While the shrinking of the globe due these technologies that allowed for faster travel and communication paved the way for faster progress across the world, this progress also lead to devices of self destruction, made possible only by the ideas that had replaced Newton's. This arc from progress to destruction can also be used to explain events in all facets of society that led to the end of Modernism and the start of Existentialism. Up until the World Wars, the idea of human progress had been a constant driving force due to the feeling that progress could only lead to positive ends. But after the detonation of the atomic bombs, and the terrible use of chemical warfare, and the horrible loss of life, suddenly progress had come to a halt. Suddenly humanity had to look at itself critically, which caused great discomfort to the majority of people. In order to cast the blame upon anything but themselves, they blamed the 19th century's traditions for their problems, and as such, broke entirely from them. A new secular, materialistic world view began to form, and to thinkers like Sartre and Camus the world began to lose its ability to think phi...

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...in why this is a problem, Camus turns to the myth of Sisyphus. Camus makes Sisyphus happy in his eternal task of pushing a rock up a hill, only to have it come crashing down again. To Sisyphus, life is worth living simply because it is life. And this is the way man must live according to Camus. Life will not be perfect, and will be hard, but one must love it because one is alive.

Both Camus and Sartre changed the way that life is viewed during the 20th century. In order to deal with the hardship caused by economic depression and war, they turned away from the philosophies that created a lack of responsibility, and instead lived with no excuses other than their own choices. By going back to the basic questions of existence, philosophy took a different route than that of Socrates, but ended in the same place, that is, loving life by knowing oneself.
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