The idea of the absurd and the moral decision. Possibilities and limits of a physician's actions in the view of the absurd

Theor Med. 1994;15(3):243-51. doi: 10.1007/BF01313340.


In reference to two central concepts of Albert Camus' philosophy, that is, the absurd and the rebellion, this article examines to what extent his The Plague is of interest to medical ethics. The interpretation of this novel put forward in this article focuses on the main character of the novel, the physician Dr. Rieux. For Rieux, the plague epidemic, as it is described in the novel, implies an unquestioning commitment to his patients and fellow men. According to Camus this epidemic has to be understood as a symbol of the absurd. Unable to base his actions on a Christian, metaphysical value system, Rieux sees his commitment as a continuous rebellion against the fact of the absurd, which opposes him in the form of evil, suffering and death. As a physician, Rieux is therefore forced to adjust his actions to life in its immediacy, that is, the suffering of his patients. In this article, it will be shown that Rieux's attention to the "immediate" is of particular interest to medical ethics: The other person in need, rather than my moral convictions, sets the norm.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Death
  • Decision Making*
  • Dissent and Disputes
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Existentialism*
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Medicine in Literature*
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Social Values*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Theology
  • Value of Life