A play by Bala Aella, Leah Presper, and Laura Kathleen Johnson
We are on a farm. Tolstoy is in the barn, sleeping. Camus is writing The Stranger in a candlelit corner while Taylor is chasing his bees in and around the barn.
Taylor: Meursault, Mersault!
Camus: That’s a good name.
Taylor: It’s my bee, have you seen him?
Tolstoy: (Gets stung) Ow! I found him!
Taylor: Mersault, my bee! There you are! (Catches the bee in the strainer)
Camus: Tolstoy, Taylor! What are you doing here!?
Tolstoy: I have been staying here for many years…
Camus: Why are you living in a barn?
Tolstoy: (Improv, explains about leaving family)…. “And searching for the meaning of life.”
Taylor: And what have you discovered?
Tolstoy: I have discovered that in order for life to be meaningful, the theory must satisfy two principles. It must be compatible with reason and the meaning must survive death.
Taylor: What exactly does that mean? Are you saying that meaning comes from an objective source?
Tolstoy: Yes. Life only has meaning if it’s objective.
Camus: So are you saying meaning comes from God? I do not agree. For as my good friend Karl Marx once said, and I quote, “religion is the opiate of the masses.” Ha.
Tolstoy: No. Actually, there are two different types of faith, propositional and preceptual faith. Propositional faith is a statement of fact about God’s existence, heaven, angels, etc.; and because we cannot prove this fact it conflicts with the first of my two principles, that it must be compatible with reason. Preceptual faith, on the other hand, is composed of that same moral system minus the statements of fact. This type of faith adheres to both of my principles. It’s compatible with reason because it does not rely on improvable ideas that most contemporary religions base their faith on; it depends only on the morals. Meaning survives death because the moral system is universal and transcends human existence. Even after we are all gone, right will always be right and wrong will always be wrong.
Taylor: But is it possible to have preceptual faith without propositional? Humans develop morals, and humans are finite and do no transcend death, so how can man-made morals survive death?
Tolstoy: Actually I disagree with that objection entirely. Humans do not develop morals; morals are an external force on humans. For example, murder was wrong before God commanded it, it is independent of God’s will, not vice versa as you suggested.
Camus: Preceptual faith still sounds too based on religious beliefs; it is impossible to remove all of the propositions from a faith and be left with only precepts. I believe that religion negates life and that God is dead. We need to move farther from religion in order to find life’s meaning. And since God is dead, we cannot have meaning from an objective source. However, subjective meaning is not enough; humans are constantly searching for objective meaning. This is absurd because humans want objective meaning from a universe that offers none. We often use appeals, or self-deceptions, like religion, to hide from the lack of objective meaning.
Tolstoy: That is actually one of my four attitudes toward life: live in ignorance of the problem of the meaning of life. Or you can admit life is meaningless and commit suicide. Or….
Camus: I don’t believe that you should commit suicide. In fact, you should live life in full defiance of its meaninglessness, while maintaining full awareness of that absurdity.
Tolstoy: Wait. You say we should be defiant, but if there is no external force, what, pray tell, are you defying?
Camus: We are defying the inclination to hide from the fact that life has no objective meaning. We are defying death; we know it is coming but we live anyway.
Taylor: So you’re saying that either absurdity gives life meaning in a meaningless life, or absurdity produces subjective meaning.
Camus: You are correct in the latter statement. Absurdity produces subjective meaning, but this type of meaning is not enough for us.
Taylor: Actually I disagree. I do believe that life lacks any objective meaning, but we do have subjective meaning, which is more than enough to instill a purpose in living. If I may, meaning is given by an individual onto his or her own life. They cannot be mistaken about their lives’ meaning because this sense of meaning comes from within. It may seem that human’s lives are cyclical and meaningless, but because humans have goals and achieve them, there is subjective meaning within this cycle.
Camus: You say that meaning comes from within an individual. What about Sisyphus? While I believe that Sisyphus is the model of an absurd hero because he rolls the boulder up the hill in defiance of life’s meaninglessness, this does not seem to be enough for you, as he lacks a subjective purpose.
Taylor: If rolling a boulder is what Sisyphus loves, then this act is what gives his life meaning. Objectively, to us, the situation has not changed, but to Sisyphus, everything has.
Camus: This thought is just an appeal, a mental crutch to cover the fact that his life is still meaningless. It has changed nothing.
Taylor: Although to you it may seem that his life still lack meaning, to Sisyphus this is not true. While you would not say that rolling a boulder up a hill makes life meaningful, it does to Sisyphus because he enjoys it. We cannot judge what makes other people’s lives meaningful.
Tolstoy: I have a problem with this though. What if what makes a person’s life meaningful to them is to kill people? You need to factor in a moral code, like preceptual faith. It is important that humans are governed by this objective external force, and only then can life have meaning. Your ideas of subjective meaning are irrelevant; there needs to be a universal moral dogma.
Camus: But I still cannot accept the idea of preceptual faith, because of its proximity to propositional beliefs. One can not exist without the other; therefore no objective meaning can be found within life. And although life can have subjective meaning, it is not enough. But suicide is an appeal, and we should strive to live without appeals and live life in defiance of its meaninglessness.
Taylor: But I say subjective meaning is the only thing that does matter. Meaning is projected from an individual onto his own life, and we cannot judge what makes other people’s lives meaningful. Forget the idea of perceptual faith, throw away the notions of propositional faith and stop quoting Karl Marx. Let us just return to our own activities, for through them we find life’s meaning. Let’s go look at my bees.
Camus: Wait, let me get my gun, for it is sunny outside. But I think we would both like some honey.
Tolstoy: Not for me, the honey is no longer sweet.
In the original performance of this piece, the role of Tolstoy was played by Kashi Cepeda, the role of Camus was played by Leah Presper, and the role of Taylor was played by Laura Kathleen Johnson.