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Two sides to ‘horned arguments’

Two sides to ‘horned arguments’
Two sides to ‘horned arguments’
Dr. Wayne Willis

Would you say, over the long haul, that you are more pessimistic or optimistic? How would the person who knows you best categorize you?

Few of us are 100% of the time a card-carrying pessimist or optimist. The Romans called this kind of choice between two extremes a “horned argument,” an argumentum cornutum, because discussants may get gored on either horn of the dilemma.

It’s another cop-out, to avoid a goring, to say, “Neither pessimist nor optimist; I am a realist. I see things as they are.” A presumption of infallible perception is delusional.

We might define a pure optimist as Pangloss in Voltaire’s novel “Candide.” Pangloss believed that “all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” He remained optimistic even through earthquakes and plagues, advising readers to “cultivate your own garden.”

Or, as Pollyanna in Eleanor Hodgman Porter’s 1913 novel with that title. Pollyanna’s father had taught her to play the glad game, to find reasons even in life’s most dire circumstances to be glad. Hoping for a doll one Christmas, Pollyanna received crutches by mistake, but she was glad because she didn’t need them, and, if she ever did, they would come in handy. The dictionary defines a Pollyanna as “one who is blindly optimistic, cheerful to a fault.”

We know the pessimists when we see them. Think Ebenezer “Bah Humbug” Scrooge, who negatively spun almost everything but his coins. Think John Calvin’s belief in total human depravity.

Am I pessimistic or optimistic? I like Schweitzer’s answer: “My knowledge is pessimistic; my willing and hoping are optimistic.” It’s one of my life ambitions to practice daily Tennyson’s charge, “Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt.”

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