Throughout the biological and biomedical sciences there is a growing need for, prescriptive ‘minimum information’ (MI) checklists specifying the key information to include when reporting experimental results are beginning to find favor with experimentalists, analysts, publishers and funders alike. Such checklists aim to ensure that methods, data, analyses and results are described to a level sufficient to support the unambiguous interpretation, sophisticated search, reanalysis and experimental corroboration and reuse of data sets, facilitating the extraction of maximum value from data sets (...) them. However, such ‘minimum information’ MI checklists are usually developed independently by groups working within representatives of particular biologically- or technologically-delineated domains. Consequently, an overview of the full range of checklists can be difficult to establish without intensive searching, and even tracking thetheir individual evolution of single checklists may be a non-trivial exercise. Checklists are also inevitably partially redundant when measured one against another, and where they overlap is far from straightforward. Furthermore, conflicts in scope and arbitrary decisions on wording and sub-structuring make integration difficult. This presents inhibit their use in combination. Overall, these issues present significant difficulties for the users of checklists, especially those in areas such as systems biology, who routinely combine information from multiple biological domains and technology platforms. To address all of the above, we present MIBBI (Minimum Information for Biological and Biomedical Investigations); a web-based communal resource for such checklists, designed to act as a ‘one-stop shop’ for those exploring the range of extant checklist projects, and to foster collaborative, integrative development and ultimately promote gradual integration of checklists. (shrink)
GJ: We've talked a lot about critics who are hostile toward you. Do you ever feel the need to make a stand against those who are favourably inclined toward your plays but whose comments seem to you to be stupid? EI: Well, for better or worse, that's what I've always done: I wrote Notes and Counter-Notes, had discussions with Claude Bonnefoy, I've written articles; and in each case what I've said, in short, is that critics who gave me their approval, (...) did so because they misunderstood me and were mistaken about my intentions. GJ: Finally, are you at all bitter about the critics? EI: No. Many have become good friends of mine. But it is a bit disheartening; when I began, a critic who, shall we say, is on the Right, a conservative critic who is very well-known and has since become a friend of mine, called me an impostor, a fraud, and a dummy; and now, twenty-five years later, the Leftists still call me an impostor, a fraud, and a dummy. GJ: But less often? EI: Well, I suppose so. Eugene Ionesco, renowned by playwright , recently was awarded the International Writer's Prize by the Welsh Arts Council. While in Wales, he was interviewed by Gabriel Jacobs, lecturer in French at University College of Swansea; the interview represents Ionesco's most concerted attempt yet to deal with his critics. He is completing a book on the subject which Gabriel Jacobs will translate into English. (shrink)
Eugene Marshall presents an original, systematic account of Spinoza's philosophy of mind, in which the mind is presented as an affective mechanism that, when rational, behaves as a spiritual automaton. He explores key themes in Spinoza's thought, and illuminates his philosophical and ethical project in a striking new way.
This book examines the social and philosophical attitudes in Western culture that relate to the environment including aesthetics, wildlife, and land use. Both the historical significance and a framework for further discussions of environmental ethics are discussed in the book.
What is the good life? Posing this question today would likely elicit very different answers. Some might say that the good life means doing good—improving one’s community and the lives of others. Others might respond that it means doing well—cultivating one’s own abilities in a meaningful way. But for Aristotle these two distinct ideas—doing good and doing well—were one and the same and could be realized in a single life. In Confronting Aristotle’s Ethics, Eugene Garver examines how we can (...) draw this conclusion from Aristotle's works, while also studying how this conception of the good life relates to contemporary ideas ofmorality. The key to Aristotle’s views on ethics, argues Garver, lies in the Metaphysics or, more specifically, in his thoughts on activities, actions, and capacities . For Aristotle, Garver shows, it is only possible to be truly active when acting for the common good, and it is only possible to be truly happy when active to the extent of one’s own powers. But does this mean we should aspire to Aristotle’s impossibly demanding vision of the good life? In a word, no. Garver stresses the enormous gap between life in Aristotle’s time and ours. As a result, this book will be a welcome rumination on not only Aristotle, but the relationship between the individual and society in everyday life. (shrink)
In this major contribution to philosophy and rhetoric, Eugene Garver shows how Aristotle integrates logic and virtue in his great treatise, the _Rhetoric._ He raises and answers a central question: can there be a civic art of rhetoric, an art that forms the character of citizens? By demonstrating the importance of the _Rhetoric_ for understanding current philosophical problems of practical reason, virtue, and character, Garver has written the first work to treat the _Rhetoric_ as philosophy and to connect its (...) themes with parallel problems in Aristotle's _Ethics_ and _Politics._ Garver's study will help put rhetoric at the center of investigations of practice and practical reason. (shrink)
Life and the living (on Aristotelian biohorror) -- Supernatural horror as the paradigm for life -- Aristotle's De anima and the problem of life -- The ontology of life -- The entelechy of the weird -- Superlative life -- Life with or without limits -- Life as time in Plotinus -- On the superlative -- Superlative life I: Pseudo-Dionysius -- Negative vs. affirmative theology -- Superlative negation -- Negation and preexistent life -- Excess, evil, and non-being -- Superlative life II: (...) Eriugena -- Negation in the periphyseon -- The quaestio de nihilo: on nothing -- The quaestio de nihilo: superlative nothing -- Dark intelligible abyss -- Apophasis -- The apophatic logic -- Negation in Frege and Ayer -- Negation vs. subtraction in Badiou -- Negation and contradiction in Priest -- The dialetheic vitalism of negative theology -- Ellipses: Suhraward and the luminous void -- Univocal creatures -- On spiritual creatures -- Life as form in Aristotle -- The concept of the creature -- Univocity I: Duns Scotus vs. Aquinas -- Univocity in Aquinas' Summa theologica -- Univocity in Duns Scotus' Opus oxoniense -- The common nature of the creature -- Univocity II: Duns Scotus vs. Henry of Ghent -- Univocity in Henry of Ghent -- Negative vs. privative indetermination -- Absolute indetermination -- Univocity III: Deleuze's scholasticism three variations -- Spinoza et le problème de l'expression -- Différence et répétition -- Cours de Vincennes -- Univocal creatures -- Ellipses: Dgen and uncreated univocity -- Dark pantheism -- Everything and nothing -- Life as spirit in Aquinas -- The concept of the divine nature -- Immanence I: Eriugena's periphyseon -- Natura and the unthought -- Universal life -- Four statements on pantheism -- Immanence II: Duns Scotus' reportatio Ia -- Univocal immanence -- Actual infinity -- The pathology of the triple primacy -- Immanence III: Nicholas of Cusa's De docta ignorantia -- The coincidence of opposites -- The folds of life -- Absolute vs. contracted pantheism -- Speculative pantheism (Deleuze's interlocutors) -- Pantheism and pure immanence -- The insubordination of immanence in Deleuze -- Scholia I: the isomorphism of univocity and immanence -- Scholia II: the vitalist logic of common notions -- Scholia III: the life of substance -- Dark pantheism -- Ellipses: Wang Yangming and idealist naturalism -- Logic and life (on Kantian teratology) -- The wandering line from Aristotle to Kant -- Critique of life -- Spectral life and speculative realism -- Ontotheology in Kant, atheology in Bataille -- The night land. (shrink)
Organizational misconduct (white collar, corporate and occupational crime, unethical behavior, rule violations, etc.) is an increasingly important social concern. This paper proposes that a necessary step toward preventing and treating such misconduct is the understanding of the explanations, called accounts, given by the actor. We argue that the theorizing and findings in the literature on accounts can be organized into a 2×2 matrix framework. The first dimension centers on whether or not the actor admits that some net harm is done (...) by the act, and the second consists of whether or not the actor admits responsibility. When both are admitted (cell 1), the account is a concession, while denial of both constitutes a refusal (cell 4). Admitting responsibility but not harm equates to a justification (cell 2), and the opposite condition is an excuse (cell 3). Building on this matrix, we specify a typology of explanations within each cell which will highlight inter-cell differences. Finally, we explore the implications of this analysis for managers, regulators, and the public. (shrink)
During tumor evolution, cancer cells use the tumor‐stroma crosstalk to reorganize the microenvironment for maximum robustness of the tumor. The success of immune checkpoint therapy foretells a new cancer therapy paradigm: an effective cancer treatment should not aim to influence the individual components of super complex intracellular interactomes (molecular targeting), but try to disrupt the intercellular interactions between cancer and stromal cells, thus breaking the tumor as a whole. Arguments are provided in favor of a hypothesis that such interactions include (...) formation of synapse‐like structures (interfaces) where the interacting cells are located at a distance of ∼10–15 nm. Within these interfaces, molecules initiating and strengthening the interaction are organized, and allow optimum cross‐signaling; a very confined intercellular space facilitates the concentration of secreted cytokines, enhancing the paracrine cross‐communication. These features of tumors form a druggable cancer hallmark the tumor‐stroma symbiotic crosstalk—which represents a new target for efficient cancer drug discovery. (shrink)
: Two common ways of explaining akrasia will be presented, one which focuses on strength of desire and the other which focuses on action issuing from practical judgment. Though each is intuitive in a certain way, they both fail as explanations of the most interesting cases of akrasia. Spinoza 's own thoughts on bondage and the affects follow, from which a Spinozist explanation of akrasia is constructed. This account is based in Spinoza 's mechanistic psychology of cognitive affects. Because Spinoza (...) 's account explains action asissuing from modes of mind that are both cognitive and affective, it captures the intuitions that motivate the two traditional views while avoiding the pitfalls that result from their one‐sided approaches. This project will allow us a fuller understanding of Spinozist moral psychology. In addition to this historical value, the Spinozist theory may offer a satisfactory explanation of certain hard cases of akrasia while avoiding the problems be set by other theories. For this reason, the Spinozist account could also be seen as a useful contribution to our philosophical understanding of the phenomenon of akrasia. (shrink)
The concepts of self-interest and self-love feature prominently in both The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. Various notions of self-preservation, self-interest, and self-love are distinguished, and it is shown how self-love functions less as a motive than as an orientation. Although self-love may corrupt moral perception, the impartial spectator serves as an antidote. Smith’s conception of self-interest in The Wealth of Nations is a broad one and not inconsistent with the moral psychology of The Theory of (...) Moral Sentiments. That the virtue of benevolence features less in The Wealth of Nations than The Theory of Moral Sentiments is not surprising given Smith’s overall account of sympathetic interaction, as well as the threshold of knowledge required for benevolent action. The chapter closes with a summary consideration of prudence, a virtue grounded in self-interest, and an examination of the status of ambition. (shrink)
This study investigated the differences in responses of undergraduate business students to an ethical dilemma. Demographic characteristics were collected on the respondents and profiled as a means of examining common bases for decision. The authors found that certain demographic characteristics appear to be predictors of ethical decision behavior of future businessmen.
Professional environmental ethics arose directly out of the interest in the environment created by Earth Day in 1970. At that time many environmentalists, primarily because they had read Aldo Leopold’s essay, “The Land Ethic,” were convinced that the foundations of environmental problems were philosophical. Moreover, these environmentalists were dissatisfied with the instrumental arguments based on human use and benefit—which they felt compelled to invoke in defense of nature—because they thought these arguments were part of the problem. Wanting to counter instrumental (...) arguments in some way with non- or even anti-instrumental arguments, and unable to think of anything else to say, they began wistfully suggesting that perhaps nature had or ought to have rights. When professional environmental ethics came into its own in the early 1980s, rights for nature were one of the first subjects to be debated in detail. Unfortunately, however, no one could come up with a theory to support such rights attributions. Nevertheless, because rights had been invoked by environmentalists to challenge the preeminent role of instrumental value arguments, and because the field of environmental ethics developed in support of environmental concerns and arguments, environmental ethicists turned to an examination of noninstrumental or intrinsic value arguments for the preservation of nature. (shrink)
Multi-level selection can be understood via the Price equation or contextual analysis, which offer incompatible statistical decompositions of evolutionary change into components of group and individual selection. Okasha argued that each approach suffers from problem cases. I introduce further problem cases for the Price approach, arguing that it is appropriate for MLS 2 group selection but not MLS 1. I also show that the problem cases Okasha raises for contextual analysis can be resolved. For some such cases, however, it emerges (...) that there is no determinate answer to the question of how much of the total selective effect was due to group selection compared to individual selection. This suggests that when there is interaction between the effect of group character and individual character, one cannot separate selection into distinct ‘levels’ at all. (shrink)
continent. 2.2 (2012): 66–75 ~*~ We’re Doomed. Pessimism is the night-side of thought, a melodrama of the futility of the brain, a poetry written in the graveyard of philosophy. Pessimism is a lyrical failure of philosophical thinking, each attempt at clear and coherent thought, sullen and submerged in the hidden joy of its own futility. The closest pessimism comes to philosophical argument is the droll and laconic “We’ll never make it,” or simply: “We’re doomed.” Every effort doomed to failure, every (...) project doomed to incompletion, every life doomed to be unlived, every thought doomed to be unthought. Pessimism is the lowest form of philosophy, frequently disparaged and dismissed, merely the symptom of a bad attitude. No one ever needs pessimism, in the way that one needs optimism to inspire one to great heights and to pick oneself up, in the way one needs constructive criticism, advice and feedback, inspirational books or a pat on the back. No one needs pessimism, though I like to imagine the idea of a pessimist activism. No one needs pessimism, and yet everyone—without exception—has, at some point in their lives, had to confront pessimism, if not as a philosophy then as a grievance—against one’s self or others, against one’s surroundings or one’s life, against the state of things or the world in general. There is little redemption for pessimism, and no consolation prize. Ultimately, pessimism is weary of everything and of itself. Pessimism is the philosophical form of disenchantment—disenchantment as chanting, a chant, a mantra, a solitary, monophonic voice rendered insignificant by the intimate immensity surrounding it. In pessimism, the first axiom is a long, low, funereal sigh. ~*~ We’re Still Doomed. No one has time for pessimism. After all, there are only so many hours in a day. Whatever our temperament, happy or sad, engaged or disengaged, we know pessimism when we hear it. The pessimist is usually understood as the complainer, forever pointing out what is wrong with the world without ever once offering a solution. But more often than not pessimists are the quietest of philosophers, submerging their own sighs within the lethargy of discontent. What little sound it makes is of interest to no one—“I’ve heard it all before,” “tell me something I don’t know,” sound and fury, signifying nothing. In raising problems without solutions, in posing questions without answers, in retreating to the hermetic, cavernous abode of complaint, pessimism is guilty of that most inexcusable of Occidental crimes—the crime of not pretending it’s for real. Pessimism fails to live up to the most basic tenet of philosophy—the “as if.” Think as if it will be helpful, act as if it will make a difference, speak as if there is something to say, live as if you are not, in fact, being lived by some murmuring non-entity both shadowy and muddied. Had it more self-assurance and better social skills, pessimism would turn its disenchantment into a religion, possibly calling itself The Great Refusal. But there is a negation in pessimism that refuses even such a Refusal, an awareness that, from the start, it has already failed, and that the culmination of all that is, is that all is for naught. Pessimism tries very hard to present itself in the low, sustained tones of a Requiem Mass, or the tectonic rumbling of Tibetan chant. But it frequently lets loose dissonant notes at once plaintive and pathetic. Often, its voice cracks, its weighty words abruptly reduced to mere shards of guttural sound. ~*~ Maybe It’s Not So Bad, After All. If we know pessimism when we hear it, this is because we’ve heard it all before—and we didn’t need to hear it in the first place. Life is hard enough. What you need is a change of attitude, a new outlook, a shift in perspective... a cup of coffee. If we have no ears for pessimism, this is because it is always reducible to something as reliably mutable as a voice. If pessimism is so frequently disparaged, it is because it brings everyone down, determined as it is to view each day as a bad day, if only by virtue of the fact that it is not yet a bad day. For pessimism the world is brimming with negative possibility, the collision of a bad mood with an impassive world. In fact, pessimism is the result of a confusion between the world and a statement about the world, a confusion that also prevents it from fully entering the hallowed halls of philosophy. If pessimism is so often dismissed, this is because it is often impossible to separate a “bad mood” from a philosophical proposition (and do not all philosophies stem from a bad mood?) The very term “pessimism” suggests a school of thought, a movement, even a community. But pessimism always has a membership of one—maybe two. Ideally, of course, it would have a membership of none, with only a scribbled, illegible note left behind by someone long forgotten. But this seems unrealistic, though one can always hope. ~*~ Anatomy of Pessimism. Though it may locate itself at the margins of philosophy, pessimism is as much subject to philosophical analysis as any other form of thought. Pessimism’s lyricism of failure gives it the structure of music. What time is to the music of sorrow, reason is to a philosophy of the worst. Pessimism’s two major keys are moral and metaphysical pessimism, its subjective and objective poles, an attitude towards the world and a claim about the world. For moral pessimism, it is better not to have been born at all; for metaphysical pessimism, this is the worst of all possible worlds. For moral pessimism the problem is the solipsism of human beings, the world made in our own image, a world-for-us. For metaphysical pessimism, the problem is the solipsism of the world, objected and projected as a world-in-itself. Both moral and metaphysical pessimism are compromised philosophically; moral pessimism by its failure to locate the human within a larger context, and metaphysical pessimism by its failure to recognize the complicity in the very claim of realism. This is how pessimism makes its music of the worst, a generalized misanthropy without the anthropos . Pessimism crystallizes around this futility—it is its amor fati , rendered as musical form. ~*~ Melancholy of Anatomy. There is a logic of pessimism that is fundamental to its suspicion of philosophical system. Pessimism involves a statement about a condition . In pessimism each statement boils down to an affirmation or a negation, just as any condition boils down to the best or the worst. With Schopenhauer, that arch-pessimist, the thinker for whom the philosopher and the curmudgeon perfectly overlap, we see a no-saying to the worst, a no-saying that secretly covets a yes-saying (through asceticism, mysticism, quietism), even if this hidden yes-saying is a horizon at the limits of comprehension. With Nietzsche comes the pronouncement of a Dionysian pessimism, a pessimism of strength or joy, a yes-saying to the worst, a yes-saying to this world as it is. And with Cioran yet another variation, futile yet lyrical, a no-saying to the worst, and a further no-saying to the possibility of any other world, in here or out there. With Cioran one approaches, but never reaches, an absolute no-saying, a studied abandonment of pessimism itself. The logic of pessimism moves through three refusals: a no-saying to the worst (refusal of the world-for-us, or Schopenhauer’s tears); a yes-saying to the worst (refusal of the world-in-itself, or Nietzsche’s laughter); and a no-saying to the for-us and the in-itself (a double refusal, or Cioran’s sleep). Crying, laughing, sleeping—what other responses are adequate to a life that is so indifferent? ~*~ Cosmic Pessimism. Both moral and metaphysical pessimism point to another kind, a pessimism that is neither subjective nor objective, neither for-us nor in-itself, and instead a pessimism of the world-without-us. We could call this a cosmic pessimism ... but this sounds too majestic, too full of wonder, too much the bitter aftertaste of the Great Beyond. Words falter. And so do ideas. And so we have a cosmic pessimism, a pessimism that is first and last a pessimism about cosmos , about the necessity and possibility of order. The contours of cosmic pessimism are a drastic scaling-up or scaling-down of the human point of view, the unhuman orientation of deep space and deep time, and all of this shadowed by an impasse, a primordial insignificance, the impossibility of ever adequately accounting for one’s relationship to thought—all that remains of pessimism is the desiderata of affects—agonistic, impassive, defiant, reclusive, filled with sorrow and flailing at that architectonic chess match called philosophy, a flailing that pessimism tries to raise to the level of an art form (though what usually results is slapstick). ~*~ Song of Futility. An ethics of futility pervades pessimism. Futility, however, is different from fatality, and different again from simple failure (though failure is never simple). Failure is a breakage within the heart of relations, a fissure between cause and effect, a fissure hastily covered over by trying and trying again. With failure, there is always plenty of blame to go around; it’s not my fault, it’s a technical difficulty, it’s a miscommunication. For the pessimist, failure is a question of “when,” not “if”—failure as a metaphysical principle. Everything withers and passes into an obscurity blacker than night, everything from the melodramatic decline of a person’s life to the banal flickering moments that constitute each day. Everything that is done undone, everything said or known destined for a kind of stellar oblivion. When scaled up in this way, failure becomes fatality. Fatality is the hermeticism of cause and effect. In fatality, everything you do, whatever you do, always leads to a certain end, and ultimately to the end—though that end, or the means to that end, remain shrouded in obscurity. Nothing you do makes a difference because everything you do makes a difference. Hence the effects of your actions are hidden from you, even as you deceive yourself into thinking that, at last, this time you will outwit the order of things. By having a goal, planning ahead, and thinking things through carefully, we attempt, in a daily Prometheanism, to turn fatality to our advantage, to gain a glimpse of an order that seems buried deeper and deeper in the fabric of the universe. But even fatality has its comforts. The chain of cause and effect may be hidden from us, but that’s just because disorder is the order we don’t yet see; it’s just complex, distributed, and requires advanced mathematics. Fatality still clings to the sufficiency of everything that exists... When fatality relinquishes even this idea, it becomes futility. Futility arises out of the grim suspicion that, behind the shroud of causality we drape over the world, there is only the indifference of what exists or doesn’t exist; whatever you do ultimately leads to no end, an irrevocable chasm between thought and world. Futility transforms the act of thinking into a zero-sum game. ~*~ Song of the Worst. At the center of pessimism lies the term pessimus , “the worst,” a term as relative as it is absolute. The worst is about as bad as it gets, “the worst” as “the best” in disguise, shrouded by the passage of time or the twists and turns of fortune. For the pessimist, “the worst” is the propensity for suffering that gradually occludes each living moment, until it eclipses it entirely, overlapping perfectly in death... which, for the pessimist, is no longer “the worst.” Pessimism is marked by an unwillingness to move beyond “the worst,” something only partially attributable to a lack in motivation. In pessimism “the worst” is the ground that gives way beneath every existent—things could be worse, and , things could be better. “The worst” invariably implies a value judgment, one made based on scant evidence and little experience; in this way, pessimism’s greatest nemesis is its moral orientation. Pessimism’s propositions have all the gravitas of a bad joke. Perhaps this is why the true optimists are the most severe pessimists—they are optimists that have run out of options. They are almost ecstatically inundated by the worst. Such an optimism is the only possible outcome of a prolonged period of suffering, physical or metaphysical, intellectual or spiritual. But does this not also describe all the trials and tribulations of each day—in short, of “life?” It seems that sooner or later we are all doomed to become optimists of this sort (the most depressing of thoughts...) ~*~ Song of Doom. Rather than serving as a cause for despair, gloom and doom are the forms of consolation for any pessimist philosophy. Neither quite affects nor quite concepts, gloom and doom transform pessimism into a mortification of philosophy. Doom is not just the sense that all things will turn out badly, but that all things inevitably come to an end, irrespective of whether or not they really do come to an end. What emerges from doom is a sense of the unhuman as an attractor, a horizon towards which the human is fatally drawn. Doom is humanity given over to unhumanity in an act of crystalline self-abnegation. Gloom is not simply the anxiety that precedes doom. Gloom is literally atmospheric, climate as much as impression, and if people are also gloomy, this is simply the by-product of an anodyne atmosphere that only incidentally involves human beings. Gloom is more climatological than psychological, the stuff of dim, hazy, overcast skies, of ruins and overgrown tombs, of a misty, lethargic fog that moves with the same languorousness as our own crouched and sullen listening to a disinterested world. In a sense, gloom is the counterpoint to doom—what futility is to the former, fatality is to the latter. Doom is marked by temporality—all things precariously drawn to their end—whereas gloom is the austerity of stillness, all things sad, static, and suspended, a meandering smoke hovering over cold lichen stones and damp fir trees. If doom is the terror of temporality and death, then gloom is the horror of a hovering stasis that is life. At times I like to imagine that this realization alone is the thread that connects the charnel ground Aghori and the graveyard poets. ~*~ Song of Spite. There is an intolerance in pessimism that knows no bounds. In pessimism spite begins by fixing on a particular object of spite—someone one hardly knows, or someone one knows too well; a spite for this person or a spite for all of humanity; a spectacular or a banal spite; a spite for a noisy neighbor, a yapping dog, a battalion of strollers, the meandering idiot walking in front of you on their smart phone, large loud celebrations, traumatic injustices anywhere in the world regurgitated as media blitz, spite for the self-absorbed and overly performative people talking way too loud at the table next to you, technical difficulties and troubleshooting, the reduction of everything to branding, spite of the refusal to admit one’s own errors, of self-help books, of people who know absolutely everything and make sure to tell you, of all people, all living beings, all things, the world, the spiteful planet, the inanity of existence... Spite is the motor of pessimism because it is so egalitarian, so expansive, it runs amok, stumbling across intuitions that can only half-heartedly be called philosophical. Spite lacks the confidence and the clarity of hatred, but it also lacks the almost cordial judgment of dislike. For the pessimist, the smallest detail can be an indication of a metaphysical futility so vast and funereal that it eclipses pessimism itself—a spite that pessimism carefully places beyond the horizon of intelligibility, like the experience of dusk, or like the phrase, “it is raining jewels and daggers.” ~*~ Song of Sleep. A paraphrase of Schopenhauer: what death is for the organism, sleep is for the individual. Pessimists sleep not because they are depressed, but because for them sleep is a form of ascetic practice. Sleep is the askesis of pessimism. If, while sleeping, we have a bad dream, we abruptly wake up, and suddenly the horrors of the night vanish. There is no reason to think that the same does not happen with the bad dream we call “life.” ~*~ Song of Sorrow. Nietzsche, commenting on pessimism, once castigated Schopenhauer for taking things too lightly. He writes: ...Schopenhauer, though a pessimist, really —played the flute. Every day, after dinner: one should read his biography on that. And incidentally: a pessimist, one who denies God and the world but comes to a stop before morality—who affirms morality and plays the flute... what? Is that really—a pessimist? We know that Schopenhauer did possess a collection of instruments, and we also know that Nietzsche himself composed music. There is no reason to think that either of them would ever banish music from the Republic of philosophy. But Nietzsche’s jibes at Schopenhauer are as much about music as they are about pessimism. For the pessimist who says no to everything and yet finds comfort in music, the no-saying of pessimism can only be a weak way of saying yes—the weightiest statement undercut by the flightiest of replies. The least that Schopenhauer could’ve done is to play the bass. I’m not a big fan of the flute, or, for that matter, wind instruments generally. But what Nietzsche forgets is the role that the flute has historically played in Greek tragedy. In tragedy, the flute ( aulos ) is not an instrument of levity and joy, but of solitude and sorrow. The Greek aulos not only expresses the grief of tragic loss, but it does so in a way that renders weeping and singing inseparable from each other. The classicist Nicole Loraux calls this the mourning voice . Set apart from the more official civic rituals of funerary mourning, the mourning voice of Greek tragedy constantly threatens to dissolve song into wailing, music into moaning, and the voice into a primordial, disarticulate anti-music. The mourning voice delineates all the forms of suffering—tears, weeping, sobbing, wailing, moaning, and the convulsions of thought reduced to an elemental unintelligibility. In the collapsed space between the voice that speaks and the voice that sings, pessimism discovers its mourning voice. Pessimism: the failure of sound and sense, the disarticulation of phone and logos . Have we rescued Schopenhauer from Nietzsche? Probably not. Perhaps Schopenhauer played the flute to remind himself of the real function of the mourning voice—sorrow, sighs, and moaning rendered indistinguishable from music, the crumbling of the human into the unhuman. Failure par excellence of pessimism. ~*~ Song of Nothing. In Buddhist thought, the First Noble Truth of existence is encapsulated in the Pali term dukkha , conventionally translated as “suffering,” “sorrow,” or “misery.” The Buddhist teachings are clear, however, that this is an objective claim, and not simply one point of view among others. Existence is suffering and sorrow—and yet this is not, the teachings tell us, a pessimistic attitude. It is likely that Schopenhauer, reading the Buddhist texts available to him, recognized some filiation with the concept of dukkha . But dukkha is a multi-faceted term. There is, certainly, dukkha in the usual sense of the suffering, strife, and loss associated with living a life. But this is, in turn, dependent on the finitude and temporality of dukkha , existence as determined by impermanence and imperfection. And this ultimately points to the way in which both suffering and finitude are grounded by the paradoxical groundlessness of dukkha as a metaphysical principle—the insubstantiality and the emptiness of all that is. Beyond what is worse to me, beyond a world ordered for the worst, there is the emptiness of dukkha as an impersonal suffering... the tears of the cosmos. In this context, it is easy to see how Schopenhauer’s pessimism attempts to compress all the aspects of dukkha into a nothingness at the core of existence, a Willlessness coursing through the Will. Though one thing for certain is that with Schopenhauer we do not find the “ever-smiling” countenance of Buddhism—or do we? The texts of the Pali Canon also contain lists of the different types of happiness—including the happiness of renunciation and the strange happiness of detachment. But Buddhism considers even the different types of happiness as part of dukkha , in this final sense of nothingness or emptiness. Perhaps Schopenhauer understood Buddhism better than he is usually given credit for. Thus the experiment of Schopenhauer’s philosophy—the point at which a Western pessimus and an Eastern dukkha overlap or exchange glances. Empty sorrow, a lyricism of indifference. The result is a strange, and ultimately untenable, nocturnal form of Buddhism. ~*~ Cioran once called music a “physics of tears.” If this is true, then perhaps metaphysics is its commentary. Or its apology. ~*~ Pessimism would be more mystical were it not for its defeatism. Mysticism is much too proactive for the pessimist, and pessimism too impassive even for the mystic. At the same time, there is something enviable about mysticism—despite its sufferings. There is a sense in which pessimists are really failed mystics. ~*~ You, the Night, and the Music. In a suggestive passage, Schopenhauer once noted that, “music is the melody to which the world is the text." Given Schopenhauer’s view on life—that life is suffering, that human life is absurd, that the nothingness before my birth is equal to the nothingness after my death—given all this, one wonders what kind of music Schopenhauer had in mind when he described music as the melody to which the world is text—was it opera, a Requiem Mass, a madrigal, or perhaps a drinking song? Or something like Eine kleine Nachtmusik , a little night music for the twilight of thought, a sullen nocturne for the night-side of logic, an era of sad wings sung by a solitary banshee. Perhaps the music Schopenhauer had in mind is music eliminated to non-music. A whisper would suffice. Perhaps a sigh of fatigue or resignation, perhaps a moan of despair or sorrow. Perhaps a sound just articulate enough that it could be heard to dissipate. ~*~ Teach me to laugh through tears. ~*~ Pessimism always falls short of being philosophical. My back aches, my knees hurt, I couldn’t sleep last night, I’m stressed-out, and I think I’m finally coming down with something. Pessimism abjures all pretenses towards system—towards the purity of analysis and the dignity of critique. We didn’t really think we could figure it out, did we? It was just passing time, taking a piss, something to do, a bold gesture put forth in all its fragility, according to rules that we have agreed to forget that we made up in the first place. Every thought marked by a shadowy incomprehension that precedes it, and a futility that undermines it. That pessimism speaks, in whatever voice, is the singing testimony to this futility and this incomprehension—take a chance and step outside, lose some sleep and say you tried... ~*~ Is there a music of pessimism? And would such a music be audible? ~*~ The impact of music on a person compels them to put their experience into words. When this fails, the result is a faltering of thought and language that is itself a kind of music. Cioran writes: “Music is everything. God himself is nothing more than an acoustic hallucination.” ~*~ If a thinker like Schopenhauer has any redeeming qualities, it is that he identified the great lie of Western culture—the preference for existence over non-existence. As he notes: “If we knocked on the graves and asked the dead whether they would like to rise again, they would shake their heads.” In Western cultures it is commonly accepted that one celebrates birth and mourns death. But there must be a mistake here. Wouldn’t it make more sense to mourn birth and celebrate death? Strange though, because the mourning of birth would, presumably, last the entirety of that person’s life, so that mourning and living would the be same thing. ~*~ To the musical idea of the harmony of the universe corresponds the philosophical principle of sufficient reason. Like the music of mourning, pessimism gives voice to the inevitable breakdown of word and song. In this way, music is the overtone of thought. ~*~ The Patron Saints of Pessimism. The patron saints of pessimism watch over suffering. Laconic and sullen, the patron saints of pessimism never seem to do a good job at protecting, interceding, or advocating for those who suffer. Perhaps they need us more than we need them. Lest we forget, there do exist patron saints of philosophy, but their stories are not happy ones. There is, for instance, the fourth century Saint Catherine of Alexandria, or Catherine of the Wheel, named after the torture device used on her. A precocious fourteen year old scholar, Catherine was subject to continual persecution. After all forms of torture failed—including the “breaking wheel”—the emperor finally settled for her decapitation, a violent yet appropriate reminder of the protector of philosophers. There are also patron saints of music and musicians, but theirs too are sad stories. In the second century, Saint Cecilia was also subject to persecution and torture. As she knelt to receive the blade that would separate her head from her body, she ardently sang a song to God. It took three attempts before she was fully decapitated, all the while she continued, perhaps miraculously, to sing. Does pessimism not deserve its own patron saints, even if they are unworthy of martyrdom? But in our search, even the most ardent nay-sayers frequently lapse into brief moments of enthusiasm—Pascal’s love of solitude, Leopardi’s love of poetry, Schopenhauer’s love of music, Nietzsche’s love of Schopenhauer, and so on. Should one then focus on individual works of pessimism? We could include Kierkegaard’s trilogy of horror— Sickness Unto Death , The Concept of Dread , and Fear and Trembling —but all these are undermined by their fabricated and unreliable authors. Besides, how can one separate the pessimist from the optimist in works like Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life , Shestov’s Postetas Clavium , or Edgar Saltus’ under-read The Philosophy of Disenchantment ? Even in cases where the entire corpus of an author is pessimistic, the project always seems incomplete—witness Cioran’s trajectory, from his first book, On the Heights of Despair , to the last unpublished notebooks of acrid and taut aphorisms. And this is to say nothing of literary pessimism, from Goethe’s sorrowful Werther, to Dostoevsky’s underground man, to Pessoa’s disquiet scribbler; Baudelaire’s spleen and ennui, the mystical Satanism of Huysmans and Strindberg, the hauntologies of Mário de Sá-Carniero, Izumi Kyoka, H.P. Lovecraft, grumpy old Beckett... even the great pessimist comedians. All that remains are singular, perhaps anomalous statements of pessimism, a litany of quotes and citations crammed into fortune cookies. Patron saints are traditionally named after a locale, either a place of birth or of a mystical experience. Perhaps the better approach is to focus on the places where pessimists were forced to live out their pessimism—Schopenhauer facing an empty Berlin lecture hall, Nietzsche mute and convalescent at the home of his sister, Wittgenstein the relinquished professor and solitary gardener, Cioran grappling with Alzheimer’s in his tiny writing alcove in the Latin Quarter. ~*~ There’s a ghost that grows inside of me, damaged in the making, and there’s a hunt sprung from necessity, elliptical and drowned. Where the moving quiet of our insomnia offers up each thought, there’s a luminous field of grey inertia, and obsidian dreams burnt all the way down. ~*~ If pessimism has any pedagogical value, it is that the failure of pessimism as a philosophy is inextricably tied to the failure of pessimism as voice. I read the following, from Shestov’s The Apotheosis of Groundlessness : When a person is young he writes because it seems to him he has discovered a new almighty truth which he must make haste to impart to forlorn humankind. Later, becoming more modest, he begins to doubt his truths: and then he tries to convince himself. A few more years go by, and he knows he was mistaken all round, so there is no need to convince himself. Nevertheless he continues to write, because he is not fit for any other work, and to be accounted a superfluous person is so horrible. (shrink)