The Errors Of Philosophical Pessimists And Religious Optimists

Philosophical pessimists maintain that there are on earth

many more causes of pain than of pleasure; and that pain exists

positively, but pleasure is a mere absence of pain because we are

conscious of sickness but not of health; of loss, but not of

possession. On the contrary, religious optimists insist that there

must not be any evil in God's universe, that evil has no independent

nature, but simply denotes a privati
n of good--that is, evil is

null, is nought, is silence implying sound.'

Schopenhauer, 'The World as Will and Idea' (R. B. Haldane

and J. Kemp's translation, vol. iii., pp. 384-386); Hartman,

'Philosophy of the Unconsciousness' (W. C. Coupland's translation,

vol. iii., pp. 12-119).

No matter what these one-sided observers' opinion may be, we are

certain that we experience good as well as evil, and feel pain and

pleasure as well. Neither can we alleviate the real sufferings of

the sick by telling them that sickness is no other than the absence

of health, nor can we make the poor a whit richer by telling them

that poverty is a mere absence of riches. How could we save the

dying by persuading them that death is a bare privation of life? Is

it possible to dispirit the happy by telling them that happiness is

unreal, or make the fortunate miserable by telling them that fortune

has no objective reality, or to make one welcome evil by telling one

that it is only the absence of good?

You must admit there are no definite external causes of pain nor

those of pleasure, for one and the same thing causes pain at one time

and pleasure at another. A cause of delight to one person turns out

to be that of aversion to another. A dying miser might revive at the

sight of gold, yet a Diogenes would pass without noticing it. Cigars

and wine are blessed gifts of heaven to the intemperate, but

accursed poison to the temperate. Some might enjoy a long life, but

others would heartily desire to curtail it. Some might groan under a

slight indisposition, while others would whistle away a life of

serious disease. An Epicure might be taken prisoner by poverty, yet

an Epictetus would fearlessly face and vanquish him. How, then, do

you distinguish the real cause of pain from that of pleasure? How do

you know the causes of one are more numerous than the causes of the


The author of Han Shu (Kan Sho) calls spirits the gift of


Expose thermometers of several kinds to one and the same temperature.

One will indicate, say, 60°, another as high as 100°, another as low as

15°. Expose the thermometers of human sensibilities, which are of

myriads of different kinds, to one and the same temperature of

environment. None of them will indicate the same degrees. In one

and the same climate, which we think moderate, the Eskimo would be

washed with perspiration, while the Hindu would shudder with cold.

Similarly, under one and the same circumstance some might be

extremely miserable and think it unbearable, yet others would be

contented and happy. Therefore we may safely conclude that there are

no definite external causes of pain and pleasure, and that there must

be internal causes which modify the external.