Boris Johnson: he will underpin his dogged optimism with another philosophy which he calls “boosterism”. We will recognise it as something familiar: borrowing and spending your way out of trouble.  Photograph: Getty Images

“What is this optimism?” asks Cacambo, Candide’s servant and friend in Voltaire’s 1759 novella. “Alas”, responds Candide, “it is the madness of mainta(...)

Former British prime minister David Cameron: his egotistical capriciousness allowed the Leave campaign to offer a pure negative: vote for what you don’t want (EU membership). Photograph:  Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Nothing will come of nothing. Perhaps the greatest work of the English imagination, William Shakespeare’s King Lear is about the break-up of Brit(...)

Piet Hein: “The Universe may / Be as great as they say / But it wouldn’t be missed / If it didn’t exist”

This article is about nothing: nothing at all, as encapsulated in the number zero and the empty set. It took humanity millennia to move beyond the cou(...)

February 2015, in an interview with Gay Byrne on the RTE show The Meaning of Life, the British comedian Stephen Fry engaged on a range of questions before famously addressing the knotty theological problem of theodicy. Photograph: RTÉ

In February 2015, in an interview with Gay Byrne on the RTÉ show The Meaning of Life, the British comedian Stephen Fry engaged on a range of questions(...)