The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Till the burden of existence has become universally unbearable

"PESSIMISM is a word of very modern coinage, employed to denote a mode of looking at and estimating the world, and especially human life, which is antithetical to the estimate designated by the term (a much older one) "Optimism." Both terms have a general as well as a special application. In their non-technical usage they denote a composite and ill-defined attitude of mind which gives preponderating importance to the good or to the evil, to the joys or to the sorrows, respectively, in the course of experience. The optimist sees everything in couleur de rose ; the pessimist always turns up the seamy side of things."

The six page discourse which follows this introduction is deeply thought-provoking, and I may see if I can find the time to quote it at length, as it is a joy to read. However, for the present and working on the assumption that I may be too lethargic to continue the transcription any time within the next six months, I will cheat by cutting straight to Wm. Wallace, M.A. (Whyte's Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Oxford)'s closing remarks :
"[...]But in the meanwhile, till the burden of existence has become universally unbearable, it may be well to remember that we shall be as likely to benefit the Absolute by doing our work well as by macerating ourselves, and that the sum of existence is a big thing, of which it were rash to predicate either that it is altogether and supremely good or altogether and supremely bad."