Friday, December 16, 2005

Schopenhauer on Abundance

I haven't studied S directly, but I have read some interpretations. His central thesis seems to be that it's better to be pleasantly surprised, often, than unpleasantly surprised often or even with equal probability.

He suggest that people tend to be over-optimistic, and that this leads to a perpetual state of disappointments based on our failed hopes and ambitions.

A good strategy, then, is to temper those hopes and ambitions in order to experience a greater satisfaction.

It seem to me to be generally a good thing not to aim wildly beyond ones capacity due to the inevitability of disappointment, but if one aims beneath ones capacity, one is in fact foregoing satisfaction.

It seems difficult to argue on a utilitarian basis that anything other than perfect expectations could lead to the best outcome. It strikes me that Schopenhauer's method of adopting low expectations in fact lowers the utility one gains during a period of life.

The most obvious example to use is that of a relationship. If I am pessimistic about the future of that relationship, I may in the short term be happily surprised by its success. However, the best course of action given my expectations would be to guard myself against failure -- perhaps by breaking things off early, or by not committing to something which would most likely be a source of more pain than pleasure. In short, my beliefs about the success of the relationship in part determine the success of it.

On the other hand, if I am over-optimistic about the relationship, then I may in fact bring about its greater success. This could happen through such a mechanism as my partner responding to my enthusiasm, being grateful for my efforts and committment and so forth.

Without perfect knowledge about the outcomes of ones actions, it seems to be the case that neither pessimism nor optimism will lead to greater happiness. Optimism may lead to greater disappointment, but pessimism may lead to less opportunity for satisfaction. Optimism may lead to greater satisfaction, and pessimism may protect us from harm.

On consequential grounds, then, it seems that sometimes optimism will turn out to be the better strategy, and sometimes the worst.

Given that seemingly inescapable truth, it seems that the most accurate expectations will bring the greatest happiness. Oh, would that it were so easy! :)

For my relationship example, the clincher seems to be that pure optimism in fact makes me happy. So there!



Blogger Nicholas Gruen said...

"it is better to travel hopefully
than to arrive" Robert Louis Stevenson

12/18/2005 12:08:00 AM  
Blogger LionCastle said...

nice blog; it may be that optimism is an attitude not an analytical assessment, along the lines of "if this is shit, there has to be a pony..."

12/19/2005 11:30:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Don't tell me you're running a religious argument on me, LionCastle! ;)

I like the idea of optimism being an attitude without necessarily being a part of the analysis...


12/20/2005 05:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is sad, the very first phrase turn me off. I've read almost all of Schopenhauer and hi is my favorite among many philosophers.
To write about favorite philosopher of Thomas Mann, Leo Tolstoy and many others, without reading his work first?!
Please, don’t do that!

1/11/2007 09:25:00 AM  

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