Pessimism

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Origin

French pessimisme, from Latin pessimus worst

Definitions

b : the doctrine that evil overbalances happiness in life

Description

Pessimism, from the Latin pessimus (worst), is a state of mind in which one perceives life negatively. Value judgments may vary dramatically between individuals, even when judgments of fact are undisputed. The most common example of this phenomenon is the "Is the glass half empty or half full?" situation. The degree in which situations like these are evaluated as something good or something bad can be described in terms of one's optimism or pessimism respectively. Throughout history, the pessimistic disposition has had effects on all major areas of thinking.

Philosophical pessimism is the similar but not identical idea that life has a negative value, or that this world is as bad as it could possibly be. It has also been noted by many philosophers that pessimism is not a disposition as the term commonly connotes. Instead, it is a cogent philosophy that directly challenges the notion of progress and what may be considered the faith-based claims of optimism.

Arthur Schopenhauer's pessimism comes from his elevating of Will above reason as the mainspring of human thought and behavior. Schopenhauer pointed to motivators such as hunger, sexuality, the need to care for children, and the need for shelter and personal security as the real sources of human motivation. Reason, compared to these factors, is mere window-dressing for human thoughts; it is the clothes our naked hungers put on when they go out in public. Schopenhauer sees reason as weak and insignificant compared to Will; in one metaphor, Schopenhauer compares the human intellect to a lame man who can see, but who rides on the shoulder of the blind giant of Will.

Likening human life to the life of other animals, he saw the reproductive cycle as indeed a cyclical process that continues pointlessly and indefinitely, unless the chain is broken by too limited resources to make continued life possible, in which case it is terminated by extinction. The prognosis of either pointlessly continuing the cycle of life or facing extinction is one major leg of Schopenhauer's pessimism.

Schopenhauer moreover considers the desires of the will to entail suffering: because these selfish desires create constant conflict in the world. The business of biological life is a war of all against all. Reason only compounds our suffering by allowing us to realize that biology's agenda is not something we would have chosen had we been given a choice, but it is ultimately helpless to prevent us from serving it or to free us from the sting of its goad.[1]

See also