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Der Pessimismus in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart : Translating Olga Plümachers famous Philosophy Book on Schopenhaur

Pessimism Past and Present

Olga Plümacher (1839–1895) published a book entitled Der Pessimismus in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart in 1884. It was an influential book: Nietzsche owned a copy (as did Sam Beckett), and there are clear cases where Nietzsche borrowed phraseology from Plümacher.

Plümacher specifies philosophical pessimism as comprising two propositions: ‘The sum of displeasure outweighs the sum of pleasure’ and ‘Consequently the non-being of the world would be better than its being’.

Plümacher cites Schopenhauer as the first proponent of this position, and Eduard von Hartmann as the thinker who has developed it to its fullest potential. She heavily criticizes Schopenhauer in many respects, not for being a pessimist, but rather for not achieving as good a pessimism as he might have done, on the following major grounds: that his account of pleasure as merely privative is implausible, that he has a confused account of individuation, that his retention of a Christian notion of guilt is gratuitous, that he lapses into the self-pitying subjectivity of the condition she calls Weltschmerz, and that his philosophy leads to quietism, and is thus inferior to von Hartmann’s combination of pessimism and optimism, which allows for social progress.

From Abstract : Worse than the best possible pessimism? Olga Plümacher’s critique of Schopenhauer, by Christopher Janaway


Google Books:

Der Pessimismus in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, Geschichtliches und Kritisches, by Olga Plümacher · 1884


Working here on a Translation of Olga’s German on episodes with the Google :

1. “Pessimistic” and “Pessimism”

Modern philosophical pessimism as first described by ArthurSchopenhauer as an inextricable, organic member of a closed philosophical system and its most outstanding representative in the present Eduard vonHartmann is , the axiological judgment means: the sum the pain outweighs the sum of the pleasure; consequently would be the non-being of the world is better than its being.

Nothingness in the world is better than its being.In this form is pessimism within the occidenta a new idea, which subsequently came to an end gangspunct a hitherto unprecedented direction, both the speculative philosophy (metaphysics) than will ethics.

The essentially new moment, however, is that, that addresses that first judgment on the balance between displeasure and pleasure judgment of being in general, based on a of being, of existence, according to which this itself is the root and is the ultimate cause of evil, and secondly believes which takes the concept “world” as the sum of existence (as opposed to theorem on subsistence).

If, on the other hand, one considers the “world” as a concept that does not exhaust existence, one understands the terminus “pessimism” only as a representative of the simple sentence “yes there is more pain than pleasure in this, our world”, then pessimism is nothing new in this sense; Rather, it really forms the one pole of spiritual religions, and therefore also of Christianity. In addition, those considerations and experiences from the synthesis of which the eudaemonologically negative value judgment of the world results form the subsoil from which the higher forms of development of spiritual life and its cultural deposits sprouted in general, and we find the monuments of pessimistic consciousness reaching back so far. than we are able to follow spiritual life at all.

But before we take a orienting look at the area and the effect of the pessimistic view of being and life, a verbal definition of the terms “pessimism” and “pessimistic” is required.

Pessimism” is an arbitrary epitome of denoting the opposite of optimism as introduced into philosophy by Leibniz. The assertion of the world as the best of possible worlds hangs by the tenuous thread of religious dogma of the omniwisdom and omnipotence of a personal God-Creator; The alleged philosophical justification of Leibniz through the attempted proof of the pure negativity of unpleasure is so flimsy, so sophistical that it will hardly count many followers. Even the most zealous optimists no longer try to touch the reality of displeasure these days and their praise of the world is rather just that in spite of everything and everything “ etc. The superlative of terminism, optimism “ would therefore actually more correctly be replaced by the comparative (meliorism) by but nothing more than the opinion is expressed: that the existence of the world is one to be affirmed, that being is preferable to non-being.

The fact that after existence as such is affirmed, this mode of existence, the world with its empirical, physical and psychological laws, is now also emphasized as the best possible, contains an inner contradiction.

The assertion that our world, afflicted with evil, is the best possible, despite these evils, presupposes that the principle of reality is of such a nature that its effectiveness (its activity) eo ipso also means evil (as an objective correlate of displeasure) sets, by means of the persistence tendency of the individual moments, through which the struggle becomes the very original form of existence. So only if, firstly, being is affirmed in general and secondly, the inevitability of unpleasure is conceded, only then can the world be described as the “best of the possible worlds”, regardless of the admitted eu-demonological shortcomings, because despite the necessity of unpleasure, it is ultimately a predominantly valuable result seems to come out. 

It is only through this concern that Leibniz’s unsuccessful efforts to present the evil as something unreal can be excused.

As complicated as the concept of optimism is, it is even worse with that of pessimism. With optimism there is at least the intention that the term be verbally true; on the other hand, the pessimists do not really mean what they say with the superlative “pessimism”.

The pessimists profess the will as the principle of reality. But the will-principle, although it is also a principle of unpleasure, also guarantees the immediate relative justification of the world; for the world is a fulfilled will to exist. Bad as it may be, it still has the relative justification of doing enough for one side of the eternal nature of what is in it; with all its misery it is the fulfillment of the will, which wants to want at any price. 

Schopenhauer is inclined to take the term verbally: as a counterpart to Leibniz, who presents pain as a mere negation of pleasure, he makes the equally failed attempt to explain pain as the only positive thing and pleasure as its negation. Everyone’s experience contradicts this theory as much as its optimistic antipode, as does reflection on the nature of aesthetic pleasure, and it is obvious that if one uses the designations “negative” and “positive” for states of mind of pleasure and want to use unpleasure, this can only happen in the sense in which Hartmann *) uses it: namely in such a way that both have the same degree of reality and the designation is only used to indicate their position in relation to the “zero point of sensation”. (freedom from pain and pleasure) to fix .

Schopenhauer also tries to save the literal sense of the standard word in this way by trying to show that the natural existence of this world only holds together poorly and that if the world were a little bit worse, it would fall apart completely .

Being in nature, however, is the ever-reestablishing balance of the entire forces of nature; the world hovers on the point of equilibrium of the respective adjustment of its constituent elementary forces and the concept of equilibrium has no comparative. Incidentally, the relevant passage in Schopenhauer is also in contrast to his usual view of nature, which is thoroughly teleological and which, even beyond the recognition of expediency, is transfigured by the aesthetic way of looking at things.

So for Schopenhauer, too, “pessimism” means nothing other than the world is something that would not be better in a reasonable way, because it causes the feeling subject more displeasure than pleasure. “

In Hartmann’s case, these different pessimistic moments are fully explicated, which result from the relationship of the world to the feeling subject on the one hand, and to the logically and aesthetically judging subject on the other.

Hartmann calls his pessimism eudaemonological, in which there is still room for an evolutionary optimism, i.e. that by virtue of logic of the pure formal principle, certain natural and social relationships can develop into more valuable ones; opposite to Schopenhauer, whose worldview was definitely one that is unhistorical and explains all development as mere appearance.

It is now easy to see how the two terms “optimism” and “ pessimism ” in their original time consciousness meaning have been alienated. They are special adverbial and adjectival forms in which the term was flattened.

While Schopenhauer’s and Hartmanns, philosophical pessimism, as well as that of some others from the Schopenhauer school, still is the attitude of a relatively small number of native thinkers/educated people, representatives of optimistic worldviews contest that the adverb and adjective “pessimistic” can be applied to all possible cultural conditions. In the non-philosophical language of general circulation, in newspaper jargon, and in salon language, it refers to a pessimistic outlook that is nothing other than a personal inclination that preferably deals with the shortcomings and dark side of any situation or event, or the lack of belief in an ability to improve certain formations within the social or natural local life. In the first sense it is only a disposition and a mode of activity, which indeed belongs to the philosophical Pessimism as a possibility; in the second sense it is a subordinate moment of certain forms of pessimism. By now — secondary, as from the Adverb and adjective, that now again form a noun, it is thus an opportunity to clear up those varied confusions between the latter inadequately constructed concepts and the actual concept of philosophical pessimism. These mix-ups are not only used by laypeople, but also by philosophers and critics from the field, and the inconsistencies of philosophical Pessimism, forms only the preliminary and secondary stages of pseudo-pessimism.

These preliminary and secondary stages of philosophical pessimism are above all a world-weariness and type of “indignation pessimism” in socialism.

World-weariness is a pessimism that sees one’s own self as world center and complains as such, or sees and feels its misery as world misery; it is lyrical – poetic and not philosophical. Because the philosophical point of view is its own as just an object among other objects; philosophy executes the ego, and during lyrical poetry everything is transformed into the subject of feeling, as the poetic mirror of the world, concentrated.

Indignation pessimism, is not philosophical, because philosophy is a pure striving for objectivity. Of course, there is room for indignation. A philosopher can feel indignant, but not as a philosopher, but as human being in his capacity as moral, aesthetic, religious, humane, patriotic, etc. Which feelings and views gives him material to work work as a philosopher.

The pessimism of indignation is outside its sphere and the same is true for what encompasses optimism; One can be indignant at what one considers to be a coincidence and relatively arbitrary, as it is considered clearly evident in the pessimism of social democracy’s indignation. The same is true for material optimism, because as he writes it, assigns positive and eudaemonological value to material goods, and it is a kind of anthropological optimism, because it sees in human life something eudaemonologically valuable, a value that is diminished only by arbitrary statements.

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