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“There is only one really serious philosophical problem, that of suicide. To judge that life is or is not worth the trouble of being lived, this is to reply to the fundamental question of philosophy.” These words stand at the beginning of Albert Camus' philosophy. The question of suicide (and later murder) were his touchstones. For Camus, both questions arose from a problem that he called “the absurd.”

The absurd, Camus said, is the state of existence that is every man's lot because nothing corresponds to his highest yearnings. In order to understand what Camus is saying, consider how ridiculous it would be if there was no such thing as food, but we had an appetite for it. At some point someone would become aware of the odd juxtaposition of appetite and no food, and say, “What's going on here? Why do we have an appetite if there is no such thing as food to satisfy it?” That's the same thing Camus said about man's desires and dreams. Every man hopes, but there is nothing to satisfy his hopes. Man naturally harbors desires, but there is nothing to respond to them. Man is like an abandoned baby crying to an oak tree for milk. That, Camus said, is absurd.