Tag Archives: optimism

John Stuart Mill

[N]ot the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage, and wisdom is supposed to consist not in seeing further than other people, but in not seeing so far.

John Stuart Mill, ‘Perfectibility’, in The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Toronto, 1988, vol. 26, p. 429

C. D. Broad

It seems to me that many theories of the universe may be dismissed at once, not as too good, but as too cosy, to be true. One feels sure that they could have arisen only among people living a peculiarly sheltered life at a peculiarly favourable period of the world’s history. No theory need be seriously considered unless it recognises that the world has always been for most men and all animals other than domestic pets a scene of desperate struggle in which great evils are suffered and inflicted. No theory need be seriously considered unless it recognises how utterly alien most of the non-human life even on this small planet is to man and his ideals; how slight a proportion ostensibly living matter bears to the matter which is ostensibly inanimate; and that man himself can live and thrive only by killing and eating other living beings, animal or vegetable. Any optimism which is not merely silly and childish must maintain itself, if it can, in spite of and in conscious recognition of these facts.

C. D. Broad, Examination of McTaggart’s Philosophy, Cambridge, 1938, vol. 2, p. 774

C. D. Broad

The pleasure of pursuit will not be enjoyed unless we start with at least some faint desire for the pursued end. But the intensity of the pleasure of pursuit may be out of all proportion to the initial intensity of the desire for the end. As the pursuit goes on the desire to attain the end grows in intensity, and so, if we attain it, we may have enjoyed not only the pleasure of pursuit but also the pleasure of fulfilling a desire which has become very strong. All these facts are illustrated by the playing of games, and it is often prudent to try to create a desire for an end in order to enjoy the pleasures of pursuit. As Sidgwick points out, too great a concentration on the thought of the pleasure to be gained by pursuing an end will diminish the desire for the end and thus diminish the pleasure of pursuit. If you want to get most pleasure from pursuing X you will do best to try to forget that this is your object and to concentrate directly on aiming at X. This fact he calls “the Paradox of Hedonism.”

It seems to me that the facts which we have been describing have a most important bearing on the question of Optimism and Pessimism. If this question be discussed, as it generally is, simply with regard to the prospects of human happiness or misery in this life, and account to be taken only of passive pleasures and pains and the pleasures and pains of fulfilled or frustrated desire, it is difficult to justify anything but a most gloomy answer to it. But it is possible to take a much more cheerful view if we include, as we ought to do, the pleasures of pursuit. From a hedonistic standpoint, it seems to me that in human affairs the means generally have to justify the end; that ends are inferior carrots dangled before our noses to make us exercise those activities from which we gain most of our pleasures; and that the secret of a tolerably happy life may be summed up in a parody of Hegel’s famous epigram about the infinite End, viz., “the attainment of the infinite End just consists in preserving the illusion that there is an End to be attained.”

C. D. Broad, Five Types of Ethical Theory, London, 1930, pp. 191-192

Adolfo Bioy Casares

Mi pensamiento es pesimista; mi sentido vital es optimista. A mí me encanta la vida, yo me divierto con vivir. Si oigo una frase que me hace gracia, estoy contentísimo; si he soñado un sueño que me parece divertido, de algún modo estoy encantado; si se me ocurre una idea, lo mismo… Me gusta leer, me gusta ir al cine… Yo tengo la impresión de que, cuando hago el balance de mis días, en general puedo decir que me he divertido y que, en los días estériles, tampoco lo pasé tan mal. En cambio, si yo reflexiono sobre la vida, pienso que nada tiene demasiada importancia porque seremos olvidados y desapareceremos definitivamente. Eso es lo que yo pienso. Yo creo que nuestra inmortalidad literaria es a corto plazo, porque un día habrá tanta gete, que no se podrán acordar de todos los escritores que hubo en un momento. O se acordarán muy imperfectamente. Ya no seremos materia de placer para nadie: seremos materia de estudio para ciertos especialistas, que quieran estudiar tal y tal tendencia de la literatura argentina de tal año. Y, después de todo eso, un día la Tierra chocará con algo, ya que la Tierra, como todas las cosas de este mundo, es finita. Un día desaparecerá la Tierra, y entonces no quedará el recuerdo de Shakespeare, y menos aún el de nosotros. Así que pienso que, teniendo en cuenta todas estas cosas, nada de la vida es muy importante. Entonces, yo casi podría reducir la importancia de la vida a una idea: la idea de que son importantes las cosas que, por lo menos, nos hacen estar complacidos. Vale decir: a mí, por ejemplo, me duele algo que es cruel o es deshonesto. O inclusive algo que sea desconsiderado con otra persona: eso me duele. Entonces, salvo hacer esas cosas y salvo hacer las que dan placer y dan alegría, nada tendría importancia.

Adolfo Bioy Casares, in Fernando Sorrentino, Siete conversaciones con Adolfo Bioy Casares, Buenos Aires, 1992, pp. 240-241

Louis Pascal

Thus we have, I think, a rather complete refutation of those strange people who think life is nice. In the first place, life is clearly not nice for that substantial proportion of mankind (soon to be a majority) who must live from day to day from hand to mouth for ever on the verge or over the verge of starvation. Ask some of the thousands who starve each day how much they enjoy the beautiful birds and flowers and trees. Ask them their opinion of God’s love and His tender mercy. Or if perchance you don’t believe in God, then ask them their opinion of the love and tender mercy of their fellow human beings, the rich gods across the sea who couldn’t care less about their sufferings -at any rate not enough to go out of their way to help them. Ask them those questions. They count too.

Louis Pascal, ‘Judgment Day’, in Peter Singer (ed.), Applied Ethics, Oxford, 1986, pp. 113-114