Guide The Politics of Pessimism in Ecclesiastes: A Social-Science Perspective

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Even studies in fields like public administration and methodology are considered political science.

Whatever your needs are, we have the political science textbooks that you need to be successful in your class. Not looking for Political Science textbooks? You can rent psychology textbooks or browse through some of our other textbook rental categories. Roskin, Robert L Geer, Wendy J. Dooley, Joseph N. Scott, Ralph G. Keohane, Joseph S Like later pessimists, Hegesias argued that lasting happiness is impossible to achieve and that all we can do is to try to avoid pain as much as possible. Complete happiness cannot possibly exist; for that the body is full of many sensations, and that the mind sympathizes with the body, and is troubled when that is troubled, and also that fortune prevents many things which we cherished in anticipation; so that for all these reasons, perfect happiness eludes our grasp.

Hegesias held that all external objects, events and actions are indifferent to the wise man, even death: "for the foolish person it is expedient to live, but to the wise person it is a matter of indifference". Because of this Hegesias was banned from teaching in Alexandria.

From the 3rd century BCE, Stoicism propounded as an exercise "the premeditation of evils" — concentration on worst possible outcomes. The Critic paints a bleak and desolate picture of the human condition. His Pocket Oracle was a book of aphorisms on how to live in what he saw as a world filled with deception, duplicity and disillusionment. Voltaire was the first European to be labeled as a pessimist due to his critique of Alexander Pope 's optimistic "An Essay on Man", and Leibniz ' affirmation that "we live in the best of all possible worlds.

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Though himself a Deist , Voltaire argued against the existence of a compassionate personal God through his interpretation of the problem of evil. The major themes of philosophical pessimism were first presented by Rousseau and he has been called "the patriarch of pessimism". Rousseau saw the movement out of the state of nature as the origin of inequality and mankind's lack of freedom. The wholesome qualities of man in his natural state, a non-destructive love of self and compassion are gradually replaced by amour propre , a self-love driven by pride and jealousy of his fellow man.

Because of this, modern man lives "always outside himself", concerned with other men, the future and external objects. Rousseau also blames the human faculty of "perfectibility" and human language from tearing us away from our natural state by allowing us to imagine a future in which we are different than what we are now and therefore making us appear inadequate to ourselves and thus 'perfectible'.

Rousseau saw the evolution of modern society as the replacement of natural egalitarianism by alienation and class distinction enforced by institutions of power.

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Thus The Social Contract opens with the famous phrase "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Though a lesser known figure outside Italy, Leopardi was highly influential in the 19th century, especially for Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. According to Leopardi, because of our conscious sense of time and our endless search for truth, the human desire for happiness can never be truly satiated and joy cannot last.

Leopardi claims that "Therefore they greatly deceive themselves, [those] who declare and preach that the perfection of man consists in knowledge of the truth and that all his woes proceed from false opinions and ignorance, and that the human race will at last be happy, when all or most people come to know the truth, and solely on the grounds of that arrange and govern their lives" [18] Furthermore, Leopardi believes that for man it is not possible to forget truth and that "it is easier to rid oneself of any habit before that of philosophizing".

Leopardi's response to this condition is to face up to these realities and try to live a vibrant and great life, to be risky and take up uncertain tasks. This uncertainty makes life valuable and exciting but does not free us from suffering, it is rather an abandonment of the futile pursuit of happiness. He uses the example of Christopher Columbus who went on a dangerous and uncertain voyage and because of this grew to appreciate life more fully. For Leopardi: "He who has the courage to laugh is master of the world, much like him who is prepared to die".

Arthur Schopenhauer's pessimism comes from his elevating of Will above reason as the mainspring of human thought and behavior. The Will is the ultimate metaphysical animating noumenon and it is futile, illogical and directionless striving. Schopenhauer sees reason as weak and insignificant compared to Will; in one metaphor , Schopenhauer compares the human intellect to a lame man who can see, but who rides on the shoulder of the blind giant of Will.

He pointed to motivators such as hunger, thirst and sexuality as the fundamental features of the Will in action, which are always by nature unsatisfactory. Schopenhauer notes that once satiated, the feeling of satisfaction rarely lasts and we spend most of our lives in a state of endless striving, in this sense, we are, deep down nothing but Will. Even the moments of satisfaction, when repeated often enough, only lead to boredom and thus human existence is constantly swinging "like a pendulum to and fro between pain and boredom, and these two are in fact its ultimate constituents" [21] This ironic cycle eventually allows us to see the inherent vanity at the truth of existence nichtigkeit and to realize that "the purpose of our existence is not to be happy".

Moreover, the business of biological life is a war of all against all filled with constant physical pain and distress, not merely unsatisfied desires. There is also the constant dread of death on the horizon to consider, which makes human life worse than animals. Reason only compounds our suffering by allowing us to realize that biology's agenda is not something we would have chosen had we been given a choice, but it is ultimately helpless to prevent us from serving it. Schopenhauer saw in artistic contemplation a temporary escape from the act of willing.


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He believed that through "losing yourself" in art one could sublimate the Will. However, he believed that only a resignation from the pointless striving of the will to life through a form of asceticism as those practiced by eastern monastics and by "saintly persons" could free oneself from the Will altogether.

Friedrich Nietzsche could be said to be a philosophical pessimist even though unlike Schopenhauer whom he read avidly his response to the 'tragic' pessimistic view is neither resigned nor self-denying, but a life-affirming form of pessimism. For Nietzsche this was a "pessimism of the future", a " Dionysian pessimism. In contrast to this Nietzsche saw Socratic philosophy as an optimistic refuge of those who could not bear the tragic any longer.

Since Socrates posited that wisdom could lead to happiness, Nietzsche saw this as "morally speaking, a sort of cowardice Nietzsche's response was a total embracing of the nature of the world, a "great liberation" through a "pessimism of strength" which "does not sit in judgement of this condition".

In a article, Albert Camus wrote "the idea that a pessimistic philosophy is necessarily one of discouragement is a puerile idea. Like previous philosophical pessimists, Camus sees human consciousness and reason as that which "sets me in opposition to all creation". Camus believed that people often escape facing the absurd through "eluding" l'esquive , a 'trickery' for "those who live not for life itself but some great idea that will transcend it, refine it, give it a meaning, and betray it". For Camus, the only choice was to rebelliously accept and live with the absurd, for "there is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.

Camus imagines Sisyphus while pushing the rock, realizing the futility of his task, but doing it anyway out of rebellion. There are several theories of epistemology which could arguably be said to be pessimistic in the sense that they consider it difficult or even impossible to obtain knowledge about the world. These ideas are generally related to nihilism , philosophical skepticism and relativism.

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi — , analyzed rationalism , and in particular Immanuel Kant 's "critical" philosophy in order to carry out a reductio ad absurdum according to which all rationalism reduces to nihilism , and thus it should be avoided and replaced with a return to some type of faith and revelation. Richard Rorty , Michel Foucault , and Ludwig Wittgenstein questioned whether our particular concepts could relate to the world in any absolute way and whether we can justify our ways of describing the world as compared with other ways. In general, these philosophers argue that truth was not about getting it right or representing reality, but was part of subjective social relations of power , or language-games that served our purposes in a particular time.

Therefore, these forms of anti-foundationalism , while not being pessimistic per se, rejects any definitions that claims to have discovered absolute 'truths' or foundational facts about the world as valid. Philosophical Pessimism stands opposed to the optimism or even utopianism of Hegelian philosophies such as Marxism. Emil Cioran claimed "Hegel is chiefly responsible for modern optimism.

How could he have failed to see that consciousness changes only its forms and modalities, but never progresses? As Cioran states, "every step forward is followed by a step back: this is the unfruitful oscillation of history". This does not mean however, that the pessimist cannot be politically involved, as Camus argued in The Rebel.

There is another strain of thought generally associated with a pessimistic worldview, this is the pessimism of cultural criticism and social decline which is seen in Oswald Spengler 's ' The Decline of the West '. Spengler promoted a cyclic model of history similar to the theories of Giambattista Vico. Spengler believed modern western civilization was in the 'winter' age of decline untergang. Spenglerian theory was immensely influential in interwar Europe, especially in Weimar Germany.

Similarly, traditionalist Julius Evola thought that the world was in the Kali Yuga , a dark age of moral decline. Intellectuals like Oliver James correlate economic progress with economic inequality , the stimulation of artificial needs, and affluenza. Anti-consumerists identify rising trends of conspicuous consumption and self-interested, image-conscious behavior in culture.

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Post-modernists like Jean Baudrillard have even argued that culture and therefore our lives now has no basis in reality whatsoever. Conservative thinkers, especially social conservatives , often perceive politics in a generally pessimistic way. William F. Buckley famously remarked that he was "standing athwart history yelling 'stop!

Many economic conservatives and libertarians believe that the expansion of the state and the role of government in society is inevitable, and they are at best fighting a holding action against it. They hold that the natural tendency of people is to be ruled and that freedom is an exceptional state of affairs which is now being abandoned in favor of social and economic security provided by the welfare state. Political pessimism has sometimes found expression in dystopian novels such as George Orwell 's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

During the financial crisis of —08 in the United States, the neologism " pessimism porn " was coined to describe the alleged eschatological and survivalist thrill some people derive from predicting, reading and fantasizing about the collapse of civil society through the destruction of the world's economic system. Technological pessimism is the belief that advances in science and technology do not lead to an improvement in the human condition.

Technological pessimism can be said to have originated during the industrial revolution with the Luddite movement. Luddites blamed the rise of industrial mills and advanced factory machinery for the loss of their jobs and set out to destroy them.

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The Romantic movement was also pessimistic towards the rise of technology and longed for simpler and more natural times. Poets like William Wordsworth and William Blake believed that industrialization was polluting the purity of nature.