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The pessimism ( lat. : Pessimus  - bad tester, superlative of malus = bad) is a view of life with an attitude without positive expectations and hopes. It also denotes an attitude, determined by negative expectation, in view of a thing with regard to the future, as well as a philosophical view according to which the existing world is bad and a development for the better is not to be expected. The opposite view to pessimism is optimism .


Arthur Schopenhauer founded a radical metaphysical pessimism with his major work The World as Will and Idea from 1819 . In his principle "All life is suffering" he saw himself confirmed by Eastern wisdom teachings, especially in Buddhism .

Ferdinand Tönnies ' prediction in community and society in 1887 that the western modern age would mentally transform itself into “ society ” from which there was no way back to “ community ” or individualism , i.e. would end as a culture in the foreseeable centuries, bore him the reproach early on of “pessimism” (as stated by Harald Höffding ) - which the always reform-minded Tönnies often (in vain) contradicted.

In the philosophical thinking of the 20th century, pessimism about history and culture was given great weight.

Shortly after the end of the First World War, Oswald Spengler caused a sensation with his book The Downfall of the West . Spengler saw similar fates of the great cultures in world history : like a living being, each of these cultures goes through a phase of development, a phase of maturity and a phase of decline. After around a millennium, every culture sinks back into the insignificance from which it once emerged. In his century , Spengler saw the thousand years of European-Western culture nearing its end - mainly because of this prognosis , this work was perceived as pessimistic (unlike what he saw himself) and controversial, especially during the Weimar Republic.

Other history pessimists were Theodor Lessing , Walter Benjamin and the “critical theorists” of the Frankfurt School . Significant documents of this pessimism from the left-wing intellectual side are the Dialectic of the Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno and The Antiquity of Man by Günther Anders .

Representative of pessimism

See also


  • Thilo Hagendorff: P - pessimism. A single mood. Textem, Hamburg 2014 (=  small atlas of moods in individual volumes, vol. 10), ISBN 978-3-941613-87-4 .

Web links

Wiktionary: pessimism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
  • Pessimism. In: Rudolf Eisler: Dictionary of Philosophical Terms. 1904.

Individual evidence

  1. Andrew Tomarken, Richard Davidson: Frontal Brain Activation in repressor and Nonrepressors. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Volume 103, 1994.