Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Giacomo Leopardi was an Italian poet, philosopher and exceptional philologist, who lived the scientific revolutions of the early 19th century and ventured into the dark side of naturalist philosophy. His pessimism influenced the ideas of Arthur Schopenhauer and the future of modern philosophy and literature to come.

At the moment, I am reading parts of his ‘Zibaldone of Thoughts’, a diary he kept for his philosophical ideas among others. His uncommon sensitivity shines through the yellowed pages of my 1951 edition, and his high consideration of women is proven by his constant references to the writings of Mme de Stäel and to other Swiss and French femmes de lettres.

It is not my purpose to idealize his figure, nor to depict an anachronistic version of a man of his time. At any rate, Leopardi’s exceptionality is beyond doubt and deserves much greater international consideration.

I am rather ignorant concerning this author’s massive literary production of a quality more unique than rare, surprisingly vast especially for him, who died prematurely at the age of 38. None the less, I will attempt to pay him a brief tribute by analyzing an argument among those of Zibaldone, which led him to embrace pessimism.

As I understand it, this argument is formulated in two parallel ways. The first I will call argument from the infinity of pleasure, shortly “infinite pleasure argument” (IPA); the second is the argument from the projection in the future of our good, shortly “future good argument” (FGA).

IPA runs like this: we desire our pleasure always to be infinite. However, desire is all we can do with respect to infinite things, for infinity is unconceivable for finite creatures like us. Hence, our pleasure can never be satisfied, because everything we can ever experience is going to be finite.

FGA runs like this: our good is always projected in the future. Once we have reached it, we project it even further or are caught by boredom instead. Therefore good can’t, by its own nature, ever be reached.

Both IPA and FGA lead us to adopt one of these two pessimist conclusions: delusion about our true condition, or melancholy and hopelessness, which are the best ways to deal with our misery.

Reason has no liberating power from Leopardi’s perspective. Indeed, it is our “capital enemy”, who is concerned with destroying the illusions that could make our life happier.

You might guess that a sympathizer of rationalism such as myself would find this position uninteresting to say the least. Instead, I might surprise you by telling that I could even agree with Leopardi on a great amount of things. All I need is just a different interpretation of his own arguments.

If taken as descriptions of reality, both IPA and FGA are inexorably sliding into pessimism. But if we adopt a motivational/normative reading, we can see how they can have even an optimistic potential. I try to clear myself in what follows.

Imagine a world in which the infinity of pleasure were reached. Or imagine a world in which the good we always project in the future were in our hands. What kind of worlds would those be? Wouldn’t they be incredibly static worlds, with no possibility of doing anything whatsoever for it wouldn’t make sense to change our perfect condition? But there is something more to this thought experiment, I believe: would the notions of good and bad ever make sense anymore? If we couldn’t change our condition, what term of comparison would we have to define it as good? The assumption that our perfect static condition were good would be just as arbitrary as thinking it were perfectly bad.

What this is supposed to show is that awareness of our existence comes with the question of whether our existence is good or bad. At the same time, it is only because of the variety and mutability of our reality that we can distinguish what is good from what is bad. And once we know that, we are suddenly provided with reasons to pursue what is good and reject what is bad.

Leopardi followed the path of pessimism, which drove him with great costs to greater philosophical and literary excellence. But that is not the only path permitted by his arguments. You could even uncover a source of motivation and normativity in them, because, once you exist, discrimination between good and bad is unavoidable and action necessarily follows.

No one ever said that achieving the good was as easy as not doing anything.

Forever yours,




Dear princess ‘Ishka,

Yesterday I went to the disco with some friends of mine. We had our pre-drinking at Museumsquartier and had time to chill and relax before the crazy dancing. Being relaxed means to me also to let my “gayness” flow freely and abandon myself to somewhat theatrical manners.

M, a friend of mine, asked why I “try” to be gay. Well, that’s not much of a claim, since I am gay indeed and I don’t have to try. But obviously he meant why I “struggle” to appear gay. I found the question puzzling but interesting at the same time. Indeed, how can I be myself if my behavior is “theatrical”, which sounds dangerously related to “forcefully contrived” if not “fake”?

“I behave like that, because I am like this” was my first thought. But that answer is wrong, for one thing is to be “born this way”; another thing is to give a very strong impression of what one is.

We could make use of the insightful concept of “naturalistic fallacy” to understand better this dilemma: what is natural entails no “normative force”. To put it simply, if you ARE something, it doesn’t follow that you OUGHT to be (or do) anything as a consequence (especially in moral terms). If you hold this principle to be true (as I do), then you can see how inadequate my answer to M was: from my being gay it simply doesn’t follow that I ought to act as a gay person.

M spotted some sort of endeavor in me to appear gay. And I admit that sometimes I am not “gay simpliciter”, but I also feel like I ought to be gay. How to make sense of this in front of the naturalistic fallacy?

At a first glance, I could answer “because that makes me feel alright”. But what if I am self-deceived in believing I feel alright? Why isn’t the normative expression of “gayness” a mark of  insecurity and need of attention, rather than of independence?

We need to do better than that. M himself suggested that, perhaps, it helps to strengthen my personal identity. However appealing this answer may sound, we have not made much progress since the strength of my identity could always be an outcome of self-deception. Think for instance at an overweight person who starts believing that all people thinner than him are sick and therefore he accepts his physical appearance. He is self-deceived, but the outcome would still be an authentic reinforcement of personal identity.

These two answers show that normativity could be nothing more than a psychological trick and that I don’t really “ought to be gay”. Either I am self-deceived in believing that the endeavor in being gay makes me feel better or in believing that my identity depends on showing it off as lively, colorful and stereotypical as possible.

I am not convinced by such conclusions. Instead, I do believe that there is something truly normative entailed by “being gay”. But what is it?

Even if I am too ignorant with respect to the academic literature on the topic and I have not yet thought about it more than a couple of hours this morning as my hangover was slowly fading away, I suspect that we can derive from the natural struggle of existing as a gay person the normative force we need.

If your own existence is endangered by the social environment around you, you may develop resilience as a natural response. That is, you learn how to adapt to an hostile environment while staying true to yourself. However, you don’t “naturally” stay true to yourself. You ought to be yourself against social pressure. You ought to take pride in who you are, because otherwise you succumb.

If my intuition is correct, the very concept of “pride” becomes an essential part of yourself, the part enabling your survival and flourishing. And if this is so, the distinction between what is natural and what is normative in “being gay” becomes a strict connection. The naturalistic fallacy stays unchallenged for most of the cases. It simply doesn’t apply in the special case in which it is not possible to naturally be oneself without normatively being oneself.

It’s not possible for me to distinguish an underlying self from my acting under norms regulating who I take myself to be. The fact that I feel alright and that I am randomly cultivating my personal identity are not enough. In order to be authentic, I ought to be proud and that also means that I ought to behave in a way which conforms to my inclinations. Hence, “being gay” doesn’t mean “fake”, but rather “proud” and “auto-nomous”, in the literal sense of “self-regulating”.

This has been only a brief reflection on one of the many meanings of pride, even if not the easiest one. To thank you for your patience in reading it through, I wish you a joyful, extravagant and (why not) theatrical season of pride!

Forever yours,