Missing Axioms XIV – The Cave of Sisyphus

January 25, 2021

“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labour.”1

In our illusion we are like Sisyphus, endlessly uncovering the light of what we experience as revelation only to later realise it was simply an imitation of the truth. To give up this process and avoid continual revaluation is a denial of the intellect’s sight. To accept the current illusion, the temporary truth, is an acceptance of existence in a single simulacrum. This is the fate of most who have, and will ever, live the uncountable unexamined lives. Like suffering, illusion is an inescapable reality of human existence.

What, then, is the appropriate response to the potential of endless caves?

To settle in a cave is an embodied value assertion of illusion in itself and to affirm the settled simulacrum as a normative ideal. One that ought to be approximated in explicit and implicit action. If instead, the caves are tackled in the spirit of Sisyphus the workman becomes the epistemological process itself. Approaching the artwork of philosophy as an affirmable process for its own potential or failure is a replication of Sisyphus’ boulderly labours. Within the intellect, this is the only option we have outside of illusion. To adopt an illusion is inherently inauthentic, given our capacity for intellect, whether we admit this to ourselves or not. Ultimately, due to our inherent fallibility, I suspect we would be unable to keep up appearances within falsehood regardless. Causing us to eventually slip into a disunification of explicit statement and implicit action. Inauthenticity is the watchword of illusion.

“The first condition of life is a reason for congratulation, the second for sympathy, though if one wants to laugh at it one can do so with less absurdity than at the mind that has descended from the daylight of the upper world.”2

A knowing laughter is the appropriate response. The ability to see the caves for what they are is a blessing of the intellect bestowed upon the few. It is commonly conceived as the philosophical elite’s duty to sharing the light they have, but the practical limitations are far from this egalitarian dream:

“Then this turning around of the mind itself might be made a subject of professional skill […] It would not be concerned to implant sight, but to ensure that someone who had it already was not either turned in the wrong direction or looking the wrong way.”3

It is certainly best that most are left looking at shadows, the light is wasted on their eyes. Contained within the contrary notion we have the tyranny of egalitarian reason, born of the assumption that evil only comes of ignorance, the belief that nothing human is inherently evil. This must be rejected outright, the capacity for human evil has only increased with our technological ‘progress’. The stars quake as we make our eventual progress towards them: “[…] men commonly called bad but clever […] the keener their sight the more effective that evil is”.4

Milton’s devil embodies the keen intellect, able to manipulate the caves to his own ends:

“So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,

Farewell remorse! All good to me is lost;

Evil be thou my Good”5

Alas, the nature of our cavernous existence must be kept concealed, else we try to recreate the interior in our own revolting image. For those with eyes to see: embrace the struggle and be happy in the suffering, there is meaning to be found within. Ignore those better off occupied in the shadows.

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”6

  1. Camus, A., 2013. The Myth Of Sisyphus. Penguin UK. p.86
  2. Lee, D., 2007. Plato, The Republic (Rev. Ed.).p.245BK VII. 518b.
  3. Ibid. 518d.
  4. Ibid. pp.245-246BK VII. 519a.
  5. Milton, J., 1996. Paradise Lost. Penguin. p.88 Book IV 108-110
  6. Camus, A., 2013. The Myth Of Sisyphus. Penguin UK. p.89
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