According to wikipedia on Pessimism and Pragmatic Criticism

...Al-Ghazali and William James rejected their pessimism after suffering psychological, or even psychosomatic illness...

Other authors such as Socrates, Diogenes, David Hume, William James and a large etc. had several kinds of mental troubles. Nietzsche was seriously depressed during his nihilistic period and it's very well-known for philosophers to have periods of severe depression during existential doubts.

In some other cases philosophy has had a very positive psychological outcome because it has been providing people with wisdom and knowledge and different visions and approaches to certain topics such as religion, nationalism, materialism, ethics, morality, human nature, beauty, truth etc.

Are there any books in psychology, philosophy or neuroscience who talk about why negative or obsessive thinking is bad for your mental health? What makes for instance pessimism be bad for your mental heath? Are there any explanation for this apart for spiritual theories in some religions? Are we genetically predetermined to think in an specific way because otherwise we could end up mentally sick? Is it just the habit of over-thinking what is unhealthy and we should learn to stop the mind from time to time like in Buddhism? Is it perhaps not the idea but the emotion attached to it that brings discomfort? If so why the pessimist philosophers mentioned above and other philosophers had to quit or evolve their philosophies to overcome their mind discomfort?

Are there any guides or tutorials which warn us about the dangers of philosophy or give us advice on how to think before we start investing time and effort with hard philosophical mind-jobs?

"Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts." Buddha

  • I do not see any reason why philosophy can cause mental illness... To some philosophers it happened to suffer of psychological/psychic problems... as many of us. Jun 15 '18 at 11:21
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA I believe it's too recurring in philosophy. Questioning existence, morality or just going all the way looking for the truth can be hard. I just want literature on this topic.
    – user22051
    Jun 15 '18 at 11:39
  • 1
    Cause and effect may be reversed. Unstable and damaged individuals may be more likely to delve into philosophy. Jun 15 '18 at 19:56
  • 1
    Tried to frame title a bit more narrowly/neutrally — very interesting q btw
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jun 16 '18 at 0:48
  • 1
    I believe there is an established link between improvement of mental health and educational attainment (i.e. -- academic degrees and the like). I see no reason why this would not extend to Philosophy -- but I will be cautious in drawing conclusions. I suggest that someone should look into this paradigm and write an answer based on this premise. Jun 16 '18 at 14:54

in psychology, philosophy or neuroscience who talk about why negative or obsessive thinking is bad for your mental health?

In neuroscience this is correlated with activation of the https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Default_mode_network and the internal voice/critic and self-identification. Task-focussed mental states such as 'flow' contrast with this, where you 'lose' yourself, and conceptual linguistic thinking may be minimised or not involved at all. There is evidence to suggest meditation can also have similar neurological consequences as flow.

There is a growing body of evidence that anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, and other mental health problems, may be linked to an overactive default mode network or inability to get healthy breaks from it. Therapeutic options are increasingly focused on inducing neuroplasticity eg as discussed here "Waking Up Podcast #127 - Freedom from the Known" https://samharris.org/podcasts/127-freedom-known/

Wittgenstein proposed that philosophy is essentially therapeutic, and about people applying the ideas and tools to their own problems, and generating new pictures and framings of things, rather than 'truths' like science aims for

"So, philosophy, insofar as it is possible at all, cannot be a body of doctrines. It must be an activity. It must aim not, like science, at truth and knowledge, but only at clarity and, with the achievement of that clarity, peace." From this article https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/ludwig-wittgenstein-honesty-ground/

This article https://aeon.co/ideas/whence-comes-nihilism-the-uncanniest-of-all-guests develops the idea that philosophers are tinkering with values, which must then be lived and taken up to build healthy cohesive societies, philosophers as a kind of witch-doctor or shaman I would say from this view, this not a path for everyone, because it needs robustness to stand in that place of unknowing, uncertainty, without fixed values. Wittgenstein said if you can be an engineer, do that, be useful. Only be a philosopher if you cannot reconcile yourself to doing anything else.


PATRICIA TURRISI, 'The Problem of the Philosophical Person', The Pluralist, Vol. 4, No. 1 (SPRING 2009), pp. 68-76, deals with the 'madness' of Socrates and William James. But it's an article, not a book, and too long to quote here.

For Nietzsche :

Jurgen Kleist, Zarathustra s Last Dance, SBN 10: 1448638682 / ISBN 13: 9781448638680 Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, United States, 2011.

One might question whether Holderlin was a philosopher. But grant him the status, then his mental problems are explored in :

Peter Weiss, Holderlin, Seagull Books London Ltd, United Kingdom (2011) ISBN 10: 1906497729 ISBN 13: 9781906497729.

I don't accept the premises of your question but that shouldn't concern you. You have made a reference request, and I have responded with references. Pursue your inquiries !

  • Well, this doesn't answer the question. At least summarize.
    – Cloud
    Jun 18 '18 at 10:13
  • 1
    The question was a reference request and was marked as such. I supplied references.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jun 18 '18 at 11:35


After rereading your question, I'm not sure if my answer is pertinent. In your opening question, you ask HOW, but you later ask WHY.


I never meant to suggest that people should embrace ignorance. I was simply pointing out the fact that it can be really hard to think about some of the things around us without becoming a little depressed or frightened.

It still isn't clear to me exactly what's being asked in the original question, but if you're looking for ways to maintain a positive attitude, there are many, and they aren't necessarily limited to philosophy.

There was mention of the need to "stop the mind from time to time," as in Buddhism. This might be roughly correlated with escapism, something I've been pondering lately. It also correlates with the need for variety, which some psychologists believe is one of our most basic needs.

If you focus on poverty and human rights abuses 24 hours a day, you're obviously going to pay a penalty. There's also a famous quote about the perils of gazing too long at the abyss.

I like the idea of maintaining balance - dividing your time before serious philosophical inquiry and "escapism."

Many great thinkers and writers have commented on the value of simply taking a walk - preferably in a rural setting, rather than an urban jungle. Thoreau, who is considered a philosopher, had a lot to say about this...

Walking (Thoreau)

For Thoreau, the scenery was as important as the exercise, which brings me full circle to the point I was trying to make at the end of my post.

Nature is one of the most soothing things around us. In addition, it could be argued that one really can't have a balanced philosophical "belief system" without embracing Nature to some extent. Some philosophers would disagree, but a world without Nature would be a bit harsh, to say the least.

Consider the maxim ignorance is bliss.

As simplistic as it sounds, I think that may explain a lot. Deep thinkers are more likely to reflect on the world around us, which contains a lot of suffering and unfairness, not to mention our staggering environmental problems. How can that not make one feel a little depressed?

People who are addicted to football and Xbox may be scarcely aware of what's happening around them. Some of the happiest people I've ever met in my life were idiots.

Personally, I find the study of philosophy - my specialty is political activism - a balancing act. It can be very satisfying and inspirational, but it sometimes takes an effort to avoid being drawn into the abyss.

In your last question you ask about advice on how to think. Many great thinkers have treasured peace and solitude. Think of the legendary wise men who sojourned in the wilderness or lived in remote monasteries.

As the wilderness - and Nature in general - is continually degraded, such retreats are harder to find.

  • There is a science to everything even to be happy. If you ignore how to be happy or what causes suffering it's going to be difficult for you to achieve it. Buddhism, stoics, epicureans and psychology talk about this matter. Sorry your answer is far from valid to me.
    – user22051
    Jun 17 '18 at 21:54
  • As I said in my edit, I misread your question, which actually appears to be two or three questions. And I never meant to suggest that people should embrace ignorance. I simply meant to point out that philosophy, by its very nature, can be a painful undertaking. Jun 18 '18 at 1:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy