The promise of pessimism

Life when optimism is unconscionable

Explaining evil in a world made by God perplexed theist philosophers for centuries. When Schopenhauer confronted his ‘honest atheism’, and faced the possibility that existence has no meaning, the question was no longer a choice between optimism and pessimism, but how one can live as a pessimist, writes David Bather Woods.


When dividing one number by another, sometimes we are left with a remainder. This is how Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) viewed theistic optimism. No matter how much we try to make sense of the world as being created by a supremely wise, powerful, benevolent entity, there is always an unresolved leftover, something that just doesn’t make sense in those terms. Examples might include poverty, famine, or a deadly pandemic.

For centuries before Schopenhauer, philosophers had been trying to resolve the contradiction between the goodness of God and the misery of the world. Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716) represents a high-water mark

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