The Utility of Pessimism

As a reliable compass for orientating yourself in life nothing is more useful than to accustom yourself to regarding this world as a place of atonement, a sort of penal colony. When you have done this you will order your expectations of life according to the nature of things and no longer regard the calamities, sufferings, torments and miseries of life as something irregular and not to be expected but will find them entirely in order, well knowing that each of us is here being punished for his existence and each in his own particular way. This outlook will enable us to view the so-called imperfections of the majority of men (i.e. their moral and intellectual shortcomings and the facial appearance resulting therefrom) without surprise and certainly without indignation: for we shall always bear in mind where we are and consequently regard every man first and foremost as a being who exists as a consequence of his culpability and whose life is an expiation of the crime of being born.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer is regarded as one of the most pessimistic philosophers, a sentiment clearly demonstrated in the above quote from his work Essays and Aphorisms. Despite this obviously negative view of the human experience, let’s dissect this quote and see what we can learn.

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