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Optimism

  • Margaret A. Boden (a1)
Abstract

The optimist may be secretly envied, but he is publicly despised. His pronouncements are regarded as expressions of simple-minded blindness or as cynical propaganda. Optimism is not regarded as intellectually respectable. It was not always so: there have been times when optimism was not merely considered worthy of rational argument, but was widely accepted by thinking men. Now, however, we react with a growing embarrassment to passages such as these:

The time will therefore come when the sun will shine only on free men who know no other master but their reason;… All the causes that contribute to the perfection of the human race, all the means that ensure it must by their very nature exercise a perpetual influence and always increase their sphere of action … the perfectibility of man is indefinite.

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page 291 note 1 Sometimes Spencer seems to support a cyclical view, predicting the achievement and consequent disintegration of equilibrium ad infinitum—thus we must be careful in calling him an optimist.

page 294 note 1 If we accept Marx's claims that he is not at all concerned with morals, merely with historically necessary processes, then we cannot regard him as an optimist, no matter what predictions he may make.

page 300 note 1 From Sumner's essay The Absurd Effort to Make the World Over, first published in the Forum, 1894.

page 301 note 1 Herrick, The Evolution of Human Nature, 1956, p. 126.

page 301 note 2 Example taken from McDougall, Body and Mind, 1911.

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Philosophy
  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
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