I will discuss Kirilov’s dilemma within the context of Albert Camus’ attempt to solve the problem of suicide.
The Myth of Sisyphus was Camus’ philosophical attempt at a solution for suicide. We all already know the un-philosophical refutation of suicide – that is to keep on living, keep on kickin’ n breathin.’ Death will come for us all, eventually. Well, like a good existentialist, Camus notes that people get in the habit of living before they acquire the habit of thinking.
There are two aspects of suicide: one is the realization that life is absurd and the other is the destruction of the attachment to life. Camus notes that the body shrinks from annihilation. In order to destroy the attachment to life, there has to be a powerful rationale strong enough to blot out self-preservation, and they can number from humiliation, debilitating disease or despondency.
But Camus isn’t interested in these types of suicide, for he finds the metaphysical or virgin suicide far more fascinating: “rarely is suicide committed … through reflection.” A suicide that lacks the aforementioned rationales is a “logically disposed” suicide because it is not motivated by some kind of emotional depression or even the fear of death. Since Camus couldn’t find a better example, he chose Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s character, Kirilov, from his book The Possessed. Kirilov became disenchanted with the immortality of the soul and was researching on why people did not kill themselves.
Kirilov said he wanted to take his life because that was his idea. Having an idea, indeed, implies a motivation. Kirilov arrived at his idea with absurd reasoning by maintaining two contradictory beliefs:
“I know God is necessary and must exist. I also know that he does not and cannot exist.”
Apparently, the paradoxical existence of God entails a logical suicide. For Kirilov, this realization was enough to kill himself, because he inferred that he was God: “If God does not exist, I am God.” However, Kirilov didn’t just think he was God, for that was insufficient. To be God required Kirilov to kill himself. Absurd, indeed, but wait for the pop: Kirilov realized the divine freedom by bringing it down to earth. For several years he had sought the attribute of his divinity and he found it. The attribute is freedom. Drawing the final consequences of his divine freedom ended his servitude to immortality. He refused to maintain the universal delusion that everyone up to him in history, all men and women, had invented God in order not to kill themselves. Kirilov thought that was the summary of the entire history up to the moment of his metaphysical suicide.
In short, Kirilov wanted to demonstrate his suicide to show others the yellow brick road. Not only was it a metaphysical suicide, it was also pedagogical. Since Dostoyevsky was a Christian whose Christian beliefs forbid suicide, because it is sinful, then Kirilov’s act was intended as a lesson. But Camus forbids suicide for different reasons and gave us a solution: by maintaining absurdity, never denying it or adopting metaphysical delusions.
Suicide confirms the absurd by agreeing to it. To live is to experience the absurd at all times, but never reconcile yourself with it. Camus insists that if you never reconcile with the absurd, you will never be free of it, but that will rule out suicide as the genuine experience of living an absurd life. If the absurd is not conceded, it is meaningful. Life has no meaning, it is inescapably absurd. The only thing is whether you can live with it or die with it.