When we think of the universe at large, it is typical to assume that a higher order or domain is at stake. We suppose it among the greatest markers of mental acuity and intellectual vision to grasp the cosmos altogether, whether as an organic whole or a quantitative aggregate.
It is actually the case that a very low-order perspective has been adopted, perhaps even the lowest and most fundamental (unless we were to invoke the genetic process of speculative philosophy). For in conceiving of the universe, the mind abstracts from all its existing complexities and grasps solely those most general presuppositions that apply to all particulars. The idea of the universe is akin to a material or phenomenal universal. The only perspective that grasps the universe with all its particular variations for specific existences is the universe itself.
Science in the twentieth century became increasingly aware of the axiological nature of material determination. To exist implies an orientation, a mode of existence (the term plays nicely with both the sense of “a way of being” and the scholastic sense of an accident pertaining to, or dependent on, substance). From the minutiae of physical particles to human behavior amidst historical events, Ruyer notes the “predominance of activity over spatial form” (93). Activity is not merely chance movement; it is the realization of a theme, whether that be a behavior in accordance with the milieu or a morphogenesis of an embryo. Thus even as each specialized scientific discourse establishes its definitive boundaries, they also make apparent the scaffolding of meaning and orientation from below, through autonomous activity, as opposed to from above, from either providence or preformation.
This invites a strong contrast with the absurd life of Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus, which begins with the absence of either a transcendent meaning or an all-encompassing regulative principle but then transposes that absence onto all stages of existence. To return to my opening point, Camus mistakes the idea of the universe for the universal. Ruyer recognizes this overstepping:
Existentialism, the inverse of the providentialist philosophy of history, […] denies the type, the ideal norm, the mnemic pre-solution and the directive role of natural instincts in behavior and even—although this thesis remains implicit—in the formation of the human individual. Each stage […] is only a new point of departure, in itself random, for pure freedom. Or rather, this is what existentialism would assert if it were a coherent doctrine, if it had not side-stepped biological problems. (131)
There is much to admire in Camus’s meditation on philosophical suicide and absurdity: its commitment “to live without appeal” can inspire a steadfast practice, whether creative, emotional, political, or scientific (Camus 53). However, had it adopted a less anthropocentric perspective, and granted nonhuman processes both the autonomy to carve out existential paths of their own as well as the persistence to pursue those paths over iterations and compositions, then the absurd universe would not have felt so cold and dispassionate.
Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. Translated by Justin Brien. Vintage International, 2018.
Ruyer, Raymond. The Genesis of Living Forms. Translated by Jon Roffe and Nicholas B. Weydenthal. Rowman & Littlefield, 2020.