No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)


Pessimism as a transitional phenomenon

Natural selection favors an overall optimistic outlook in humans, as it promotes life preservation and advancement. Although some individuals possess contrary, pessimistic beliefs, they often don't follow these beliefs to their logical conclusions or derive life's value from other sources. When pessimism prevails in a society, it leads to a paralysis of practical abilities and a gradual decline of life.

Optimism must be cultivated as a survival advantage, which perhaps explains the success of certain groups under adverse conditions, due to their indomitable optimism. As culture becomes more self-aware, the justification for optimistic life directives must transform into a rational worldview. Throughout history, major worldviews have been optimistic, proposing some form of ultimate reconciliation or happiness, whether in this life or the next.

Discoveries like the Copernican revolution challenged the anthropocentric worldview and led to a realization that humans don’t hold a privileged position in the universe. This shifted perspectives from an inherent optimism to acknowledging the randomness and indifference of natural laws towards human desires and values.


The element of cruelty in pessimism

Pessimism involves a form of intellectual cruelty, deriving satisfaction from recognizing and highlighting the world's suffering and the fleeting, deceptive nature of its values. This destructive urge is linked to an expanded sense of self, where negating and devaluing the world is seen as a form of intellectual dominance. Works like the Marquis de Sade's "Justine" illustrate this by depicting extreme cruelty as a response to a deeply pessimistic view of existence, where only crime and vice yield happiness. The masochistic pleasure derived from one's suffering highlights the connection between an intense self-expansion drive and pessimistic worldview.

While pessimism often appears as a backlash against destroyed optimism, it serves as a necessary transition towards an objective understanding of the world that denies any inherent purpose or value alignment with human desires.

The pessimist thinks that the existence of any pain nullifies the value of life, but the proportionality between joy and suffering is a flawed concept. Pleasure and pain cannot be compared quantitatively because they are qualitatively different. Pessimism is logically untenable because it incorrectly assumes a measurable average of life's pleasure and pain, whereas any perceived imbalance is subjective and varies among individuals. Rather than the absolute quantities of happiness and suffering, the distribution of happiness and suffering influences people's pessimistic outlooks.

Socialism could be seen as an antidote to pessimism by redistributing happiness more evenly and reducing individual discontent stemming from perceived inequalities. But this process might inherently diminish individual expressions of happiness due to the lack of comparative differences, resulting in a more homogenized sense of well-being.


Simmel, G. (1900), Zu einer Theorie des Pessimismus, Die Zeit - Wiener Wochenschrift für Politik, Volkswirtschaft, Wissenschaft und Kunst, Vol. 22, Nr. 277, January 20th, 1900, pp. 38-40.
Simmel, G. (1900), Socialismus und Pessimismus, Die Zeit - Wiener Wochenschrift für Politik, Volkswirtschaft, Wissenschaft und Kunst, Vol. 22, Nr. 279, February 3rd, pp. 70-71.