Human consciousness: a tragic misstep

Cosmic nihilism, existential joy

The human need for meaning, in what can appear a meaningless world, is a cause for extreme pessimism, argued Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe. The little-known thinker and mountaineer gives voice to the darkest, most despairing of human feelings – and despite the heartache at the core of that voice, it is outstandingly beautiful. Sam Woolfe argues, what Zapffe forgets, is that human consciousness, although giving rise to the tragic in life, also gives birth to existential joy.


The Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe is little-known to most Anglophone readers. He was greatly inspired by Arthur Schopenhauer and has been called one of the “bleakest thinkers of all times and places”. Zapffe was also an avid mountaineer and a friend of fellow Norwegian phil

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