Finn Janning says empathy and compassion are necessary for our thriving and even our survival.
“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday. I can’t be sure.” These are the opening lines from Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger (1942). If these words seem gruesome, it is because the reader has an expectation that a ‘normal’ person simply has to know when his or her mother died. Expect this not, says Camus. Or perhaps he is saying, keep an open relationship with death. The French writer may also be asking: Does it make any difference? Today, or yesterday – my mother is dead!
However, it doesn’t get any better with regard to the reader’s possible expectations when the novel’s protagonist Meursault – the one whose mother is dead – does not seem to grieve at her funeral. On the contrary, he falls in love with a girl during the ceremony. Afterwards they go to the beach, where they bathe, and subsequently make love. The girl wants to marry Meursault, and he tells her that it is of no consequence, but if she really wants to, he will go along with it.
You can read the rest of the essay in Philosophy Now, Issue 148: February/March 2022