Skip to main content

Distributed for Reaktion Books

A Philosophy of Pessimism

There are many reasons to despair over the state of the world today: climate change, war, terrorism, social injustice, and an utter failure by our political systems to fix them. Yet there will always be those frustrating optimists who counter such an outlook by citing developments such as modern medicine, democracy, and the global internet as signs that things are, and always have been, on the up and up. This book locks those people in a separate room, shattering their rose-colored glasses to show the tremendous value in keeping the dark side of human affairs at the forefront of our consciousness.
Stuart Sim starts with the proposition that pessimists simply have a more realistic world view. Tracing how pessimism has developed over time and exploring its multifaceted nature, he shows that many thinkers throughout history—including philosophers, theologians, authors, artists, and even scientists—have been pessimists at heart, challenging us to face up to the desperations that define human existence. Spanning cultures and moving across eras, he  assembles a grand discourse of pessimism. Ultimately he offers the provocative argument that pessimism should be cultivated and vigorously defended as one of our most useful and ever-relevant dispositions. 

160 pages | 5 x 7 3/4 | © 2015

Philosophy: General Philosophy

Reaktion Books image

View all books from Reaktion Books


“Sim offers a thoughtful and well-articulated sampling of pessimism in western culture . . . expansive, compelling, and thought-provoking.”

Hans Rollman | PopMatters

“Lucid and wide-ranging book. . . . Revenge tragedies, Vietnam war films, Samuel Beckett’s plays, the novels of William Golding and Philip Roth, Goya’s series The Disasters of War and Picasso’s Guernica—all these works and many others figure in Sim’s analysis of pessimism . . . a meticulous survey.”

Times Literary Supplement

Table of Contents

One: The Glass is Always Half-full? Countering the Optimists
Two: The ‘Doomsday Clock’ is Always with Us: Pessimism in History
Three: Optimists v. Pessimists: Economics and Politics
Four: I Think, Therefore I Expect the Worst: Pessimism in Philosophy
Five: A World Without Meaning: Pessimism in Literary Fiction
Six: Visions of Despair: Pessimism in the Arts
Seven: The Benefits of a Half-empty Glass: Pessimism as a Lifestyle

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press