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The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception

20. Optimism and Pessimism

On-line since: 20th March, 2002

20. Optimism and Pessimism

The human being has proven to be the center of the world order. As spirit he attains the highest form of existence and in thinking carries out the most perfect process of the world. Only in the way he illuminates things are they real. This is a view from which it follows that the human being has within himself the basis, the goal, and the core of his existence. This view makes man into a self-sufficient being. He must find within himself the support for everything about himself. For his happiness also, therefore. If happiness is to be his, he can owe it to no one but himself. Any power that bestowed it upon him from outside would condemn him thereby to spiritual inactivity (Unfreiheit). Nothing can give the human being satisfaction to which he has not first granted the ability to do so. If something is to cause us pleasure we ourselves must first grant it the power to do so. In the higher sense, pleasure and pain are there for the human being only insofar as he experiences them as such. With this, all optimism and all pessimism collapse. Optimism assumes that the world is such that everything in it is good, that it leads the human being into the greatest contentment. But if this is to be the case, he himself must first gain something that he wants from the world's objects; this means that he cannot become happy through the world but only through himself.

Pessimism, on the other hand, believes that the world is constituted in such a way that it leaves the human being eternally unsatisfied, that he can never be happy. The above objection is of course valid here also. The outer world in itself is neither good nor bad; it first becomes so through man. The human being would have to make himself unhappy if pessimism were to have any basis. He would have to carry within him the desire for unhappiness. But satisfying his desire would constitute precisely his happiness. To be consistent, the pessimist would have to assume that man sees his happiness in unhappiness. But then his view would after all dissolve into nothing. This one reflection shows clearly enough the erroneous nature of pessimism.

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