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?

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Posted by Keith E. Buhler


  1. I’d like to note a tricky thing about pessimism and optimism:

    Namely, that the person’s will is a part of the reality that they inhabit and their pessimism or optimism influences their will. Thus, at least partially, despair or hope can be grounds for despair or hope. So, both are partially subjective.

    This point influences the conversation because it is not merely reason that makes one an optimist or pessimist, but also choice.


  2. This seems right, Eric.

    Can we modify the argument, then, to say that practical reason, whose end is action, eventually becomes habit, and habit eventually determines the identity of a person…?


  3. By Zeus you’re right!


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