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200 × 120 mm
208 pages
13 Jul 2015

A Philosophy of Pessimism Stuart Sim

There are many reasons to despair at the state of the world today: climate change and global warming; widespread ‘humanitarian disasters’ caused by war, famine and political corruption; religious intolerance and the growing influence of fundamentalist belief; political terrorism; racism and discrimination against ethnic minorities; the list could go on and on. Reflect on such phenomena at any length and it can be very difficult not to become deeply pessimistic about human existence.

Yet for some, pessimists are simply refusing to acknowledge the progress that humankind has made over the centuries, especially with regard to the technological advances of the modern era. To these people, it is almost wilfully contrary not to be uncompromisingly optimistic about our prospects for the future. The glass, for some, is always half-full, but perhaps pessimists have the more realistic world view. To counter the optimists and their rosy outlook, it is necessary to keep the dark side of human affairs at the forefront of our consciousness; perhaps, after all, it is more rational to adopt an essentially pessimistic attitude. Throughout history a significant proportion of the world’s thinkers have taken this view, insisting that we face up to the more desperate aspects of the human condition. Philosophers, theologians, authors, creative artists and even scientists have collectively contributed to a discourse of pessimism, and they have found a ready audience for their message across all cultures.

How pessimism has developed, and its multifaceted nature, forms the subject of this book. Pessimism deserves to be cultivated, and it is in the public interest that its cause is defended vigorously: it is as relevant today as it has ever been.

‘[a] lucid and wide-ranging book . . . Revenge tragedies, Vietnam war films, Samuel Beckett’s plays, the novels of William Golding and Philip Roth, Goya’s series The Disasters of War and Picasso’s “Guernica” – all these works and many others figure in Sim’s analysis of pessimism . . . a meticulous survey’ – TLS

‘Sim offers a thoughtful and well-articulated sampling of pessimism in western culture . . . expansive, compelling, and thought-provoking.’ – Popmatters

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Stuart Sim is retired Professor of Critical Theory at Northumbria University, Newcastle, and a Fellow of the English Association. He is the author of many books including Fifty Key Thinkers in Postmodernism (2013).

Table of Contents

1 The Glass is Always Half-full?: Countering the Optimists
2 The ‘Doomsday Clock’ is Always with Us: Pessimism in History
3 Optimists v Pessimists: Economics and Politics
4 I Think, Therefore I Expect the Worst: Pessimism in Philosophy
5 A World Without Meaning: Pessimism in Literary Fiction
6 Visions of Despair: Pessimism in the Arts
7 The Benefits of a Half-empty Glass: Pessimism as a Lifestyle