*The Uses of Pessimism*

by on September 17, 2010 at 7:15 am in Books, Philosophy | Permalink

That is the new Roger Scruton book, which I finished with pleasure.  Here is one good passage:

Optimism…is the other side of a kind of existential despair, a longing to retreat from the complexities of the great society to the primordial simplicity of the undifferentiated tribe.  It expresses a kind of distrust of humanity, an inability to allow that we can actually move on from our original nature, and create a flexible, reasonable and charitable "we," which is not a collective "I" at all, but the by-product of individual freedom.  But this distrust is unfounded.  The world is, in fact, a much better place than the optimists allow: and that is why pessimism is needed.

1 Steve Sailer September 17, 2010 at 7:29 am

I think American intellectuals get sidetracked into debates over things like: Are you a Julian Simon-style optimist or a Paul Ehrlich-style pessimist?

The key concept, instead, in evaluating policies ought to be “opportunity cost.”

2 David R. Henderson September 17, 2010 at 10:28 am

“The world is, in fact, a much better place than the optimists allow: and that is why pessimism is needed.” Huh?

3 Bernard Guerrero September 17, 2010 at 11:20 am

A quick look on Amazon leads me to think that Scruton is using “optimist” to mean what I would call an “idealist” or “utopianist”. Pessimism presumably means “no eschaton available”

4 Chris T September 17, 2010 at 1:44 pm

The author seems to be using ‘optimist’ in a way not found in every day use. Could someone clarify his definition?

5 black sea September 18, 2010 at 1:52 am

From looking at the book’s synopsis on the Amazon link, it would seem that he is defining optimism an attempt to perfect human nature, and pessimism as the willingness to cultivate one’s own better inclinations, while recognizing the inherent limitations of human nature (something like original sin). Not surprisingly, on these terms, pessimism trumps optimism. The problem is that his terms don’t correspond at all to what most people understand optimism and pessimism to mean.

6 anon September 18, 2010 at 2:11 am

This is the sort of post Tyler makes to make him feel erudite. Frankly, there is almost _zero_ information content in this particular post. Very pseudo-intellectual. Or wannabe-intellectual. It’s almost reminiscent of the Emperors-new-clothes. The commentators can’t resist commenting lest they be called philistines……

7 Nyongesa September 18, 2010 at 9:40 pm

anon, I found the post to be very informative, and i have written to my wider community about it, based on my own spin on what I think it represents to us. With so much information and commentary out there in the blogoshpere, can you not find something more suited to your depth intellect and content expectations.

8 sidd September 19, 2010 at 10:21 pm

I’ll admit that Scruton’s use of the terms (optimism/pessimism) seem a little bit clunky. Even the book’s subtitle “And the Danger of False Hope” seems to only partially capture what he describes.

To clarify, all of the things that Scruton talks about in the book share an implicit optimism about humanity. In some cases, he is talking about overzealous belief in ideology (for example, belief in free market economics, or dialectical materialism), in other cases he is talking about the more general outlook (for example, that utopianism is a suitable method of discussing the goals of society).

You could *almost* say he is talking about the dangers of “absolutism”, and that he is merely advocating healthy scepticism, but this doesn’t quite cover it either.

It’s a quick and interesting read anyway.

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