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Pessimism and optimism, Part II

October 1st, 2005 | 1 min read

By Keith E. Buhler


Thanks for the response... A brief starting-point definition: Optimism is expecting and attending to good things; pessimism is the opposite.

As a fan of (admittedly tenuous) etymological inquiries, the word optimism derives from optimum, which means "maximal good;" pessimus, "worst."

As much as I enjoy and believe in the value of rigorous inquiry into the nature of a thing, I do not want to get much more detailed and thorough here, since optimism/pessimism might just be synonyms for two of the broadest, most immediate and comprehensible and yet philosophically profound and interesting categories: good & bad.

Tex, (and all readers), give me your thoughts on these two points:

Point #1: It is people who are optimistic or pessimistic... It does not seem possible for trees or other inanimate objects to be one or the other... Nor, I think, arguments. (There may be arguments for good outcomes, but the argument itself is not, strictly speaking, optimistic).

Point #2: The real question about the relative maturity or immaturity of a sad, sober, nigh-despairing state of mind is this: Is reality really sad, sober, and desperate? or is it happy, vibrant, and hopeful? In general conversation, these terms are applied to a person because of something obvious... a persistent melancholy, or a persistent phlegmatic enthusiasm... I think that we must look past this more apparent emotional state to a less-easy to identify intellectual state... Namely, whether this person holds a rational belief in the benevolence of the universe, or a rational belief in the nasty, brutish, and unforgiving nature of the universe. It is on this that the real issue hangs.

Agree or disagree?