Course on Modern Thinkers.
Lecture XII. Optimism and Pessimism.
The concluding lecture of the course undertakes the application of Idealism to the ethical and religious problems. Of these in particular the problem as to the worth of life, and the existence of evil, is taken, not as if it were the only great problem of the group, but because, in the discussions of it, are brought together a number of important considerations of a moral and religious type.
The popular religious consciousness, in so far as it is sure of any divine principle in things, is likely to take the form of a simple Optimism, which declares that all must be somehow for the best in a world ruled by Divine Providence; and that, in consequence, evil must be merely an illusion. This view has an element of deeper truth; but, as it is usually stated, Optimism of this sort is extremely superficial. No optimism can really stand the test of experienced reason, until it has appreciated the genuine force of Pessimism.
A second form of the religious consciousness, and the one into which this first superficial optimism easily passes, is Mysticism of the type exemplified by Spinoza and by the "Imitation." This declares evil to be a necessary truth from the finite and relative point of view, but declares it to be nevertheless in a higher sense, and from the absolute point of view, an illusion. Yet this notion again, as our historical discussion has shown, proves to be very near indeed to a pessimism. The way from Spinoza to Schopenhauer is short.
The only solution of our problem is to be looked for, then, in what may be called an Ethical Optimism, where the existence of evil in the universe is held to bear the same relation to the goodness of the moral order, that, in the individual good man, his evil impulses bear to the moral will that conquers them. With such a moral optimism our study of Hegel has in some measure made us acquainted.
But even in this fashion it is still true that one great element of the evil in the world remains not only unexplained, but from our finite point of view inexplicable. Such evil as tends to make the world serious, and even tragic, may be justified by its very significance as a part of the stern, moral order, But the genuinely disheartening evils of the world are those blind absurdities and caprices of human fortune, which everywhere seem to make the world not spiritual but trivial, and life not a significant struggle for a great end, but a contemptible conflict with foes that have no worth. If one dwells upon the capriciousness of fortune and of the human Will, one finds that paradox of life, which was at the centre of Schopenhauer's pessimistic argument. And one must frankly admit the impossibility, from the finite point of view, of any rational insight into the concrete meaning of the world of this blind caprice. Only here it is that the postulate of Idealism triumphs, after all, as fortunate, over the obscurity of the facts. The Christian conception of the Logos as the God who bears the sorrows of the finite world, is in this respect one of which the idealist makes a philosophical use.
Were the Logos foreign to the finite world it would be impossible to comprehend how its problems could have a solution in His divine purposes. In so far as He is One, Rational, Absolute, and still the sufferer of all finite evils, these evils must have their solution and their explanation for Him, as elements which are faced, overcome, and rationalized, for His triumphant Spirituality.