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The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception

On-line since: 30th November, 2012


Optimism and Pessimism

(See Exposition on Brief, Chapter 20)

W E HAVE seen that man is the central point of the world-order. As spirit, he attains to the highest form of existence, and in thought he achieves the most highly perfected world process. Things really are only as they are illuminated by him. This is a point of view according to which man possesses within himself the basis, the goal, and the central essence of his own existence. It makes man a self-sufficing being. He must find within himself the support for everything that pertains to him — even, therefore, for his happiness. If this is to come to him, he must owe it to himself alone. Any Power that bestows it upon him from without condemns him thereby to bondage. Nothing can bestow satisfaction upon a human being except that to which he himself has first given this capacity. If anything is to constitute a happiness for us, we ourselves must first provide the power through which this can occur. Pleasure and displeasure are present for a human being, in the higher sense, only in so far as he himself experiences these as such. Hence all optimism and all pessimism fall to the ground. The former assumes that the world is of such a character that everything in it is good, that it leads man to the highest happiness. But, if this is to be true, he himself must first win from the objects in the world something for which he longs: that is, he cannot be happy by means of the world, but only through himself.

Pessimism, on the other hand, thinks the ordering of the world is such that it leaves man forever unhappy, that he can never be happy. The objection mentioned above naturally applies also here. The external world is, in itself, neither good nor evil; it becomes the one or the other only through man. Man would first have to make himself unhappy, if pessimism were to have any basis. He would have to bear within him a craving after unhappiness. But the satisfaction of this longing gives a basis for his happiness. Pessimism would have to assume, consistently, that man sees his happiness in unhappiness. But here such a point of view would end in a nullity. These single objections show clearly enough the fallacy of pessimism.

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