Ben King (1857-1899)

Nothing to do but work,
Nothing to eat but food,
Nothing to wear but clothes
To keep one from going nude.

Nothing to breathe but air,
Quick as a flash ‘t is gone;
Nowhere to fall but off,
Nowhere to stand but on.

Nothing to comb but hair,
Nowhere to sleep but bed,
Nothing to weep but tears,
Nothing to bury but dead.

Nothing to sing but songs,
Ah, well, alas! alack!
Nowhere to go but out,
Nowhere to come but back.

Nothing to see but sights,
Nothing to quench but thirst,
Nothing to have but what we’ve got;
Thus thro’ life we are cursed.

Nothing to strike but a gait;
Everything moves that goes.
Nothing at all but common sense
Can ever withstand these woes.

2)  First we have the twinnedness of language and action – a world understood by what we can say about it: to move is to go, we have what we’ve got, for to got is to have.

3)  We have but what we’ve got – but there is really no but there – and that is a real but – but there are others who have less – and there is another but there.

4)  For a real intellectual Pessimist, a sceptic is a form of pessimist. That works like this, from Michael Williams [who isn’t an intellectual Pessimist]: ‘a sceptic must claim to have discovered, under the conditions of philosophical reflection, that knowledge of the world is impossible [at least beyond what we can find to say about it]: it is not enough for him to have discovered that knowledge of the world is impossible under the conditions of philosophical reflection [give that philosophy a capital ‘P’]. This puts him in a difficult position’. Michael Williams, Unnatural Doubts: Epistemological Realism and the Basis of Scepticism, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1996, p.161.

5)  The real intellectual Pessimist sees Williams’s sceptic as a pessimist, remember. For the Pessimist here, the sceptic is in a difficult position because he is a leveller who, according to the Pessimist, would have us have nothing rather than have something beyond what we’ve got.

6)  But having nothing in this way, by this route, is actually nothing more or less than what we’ve got, and don’t forget, remember, that what we’ve got is already a nothing more than what we have, this by virtue of the Optimism of the sceptic.

7)  You see, the Optimistic sceptic has hope for us having only everything we have and nothing more – which is better than having more of something given, and that’s just common sense.