Happiness is closely linked to desire: indeed, isn’t the object par excellence of desire happiness? And doesn’t happiness consist in the satisfaction of our desires? We will therefore begin by studying the relationship between desire and happiness.
Happiness is in the satisfaction of our desires: this is the hedonistic thesis. Hedonism is the conception that makes pleasure the supreme value, the goal of life, which identifies happiness and pleasure. Now, pleasure is conceived as that which accompanies the satisfaction of all desire; therefore happiness will consist, for the hedonist, in the satisfaction of desires.
We can distinguish two main versions of the hedonistic theory: there are those who assert that happiness consists in satisfying all our desires, and those who recommend that we seek to satisfy only certain desires. The moderate hedonists and the disproportionate hedonists, you might say.
1. Relationship Between Desire and Happiness by Callicles-Happiness Is in the Satisfaction of All Our Desires
The simplest way to think about happiness is to say that it consists of fulfilling all of our desires. This is the conception of Callicles, a character in a dialogue of Plato, the Gorgias, which features Socrates. Socrates, criticizing hedonism, uses a metaphor to push Callicles to the end of his mind: this is the famous image of the barrel of the Danaids:
“SOCRATES: Consider if you could not assimilate each of the two lives, the temperate and the incontinent, in the case of two men, each of whom has many barrels, one of the barrels in good condition and full, this one of wine, this one with honey, a third with milk and many others filled with other liquors, all rare and expensive and acquired at the cost of a thousand pains and difficulties; but once his barrels are full, our man is not there. would pour nothing more, would not worry about it anymore, and would be calm in this regard. The other would have, like the first, liqueurs which he could get, although with difficulty, but having only barrels pierced and cracked, he would be forced to fill the day and night relentlessly, under pain of the greatest trouble. If you admit that the two lives are the same in the case of these two men, will you argue that the life of the disordered man is? Happier than that of the ruled man? Does my allegory lead you to recognize that the life ruled is better than life ruled out, or are you not convinced?
CALLICLES: I’m not, Socrates. The man with the full barrels no longer has any pleasure, and that is what I called living just like a stone, since, when he has filled them, he no longer has any pleasure or pain; but what makes life pleasant is to pour in as much as you can. ” Plato, Gorgias, 493b – 494b
Callicles defines happiness as the ability to satisfy all of our desires, including our most intense passions:
“CALLICLES: But here is what is beautiful and right according to nature, I tell you it in all frankness: to live well, it is necessary to maintain in oneself the strongest passions instead of repressing them, and, when they have reached all their strength, one must be able to give them satisfaction with one’s courage and intelligence and to fulfill all one’s desires as they hatch. […] [T] he luxury, intemperance, and freedom, when they are sustained by force, constitute virtue and happiness. ” Plato, Gorgias, 492a – 492c
This is also the thesis of Thomas Hobbes, a 17th century English philosopher:
“Constant success in obtaining those things that from time to time one desires, that is, constant prosperity, is called bliss. I mean bliss in this life. For there is nothing that is like the perpetual bliss of the spirit, as long as we live here because life itself is moving and cannot be without desire or fear. ” Hobbes, Leviathan, I, 6
Don Juan is a hedonist in the sense of Callicles and Hobbes: he constantly seeks to satisfy all his desires, in particular his desires for female conquests. The downside of such a theory is that such happiness is not easy to achieve. Man is full of infinite and disproportionate desires: if he seeks to satisfy all his desires, including the wildest ones, does he not risk being doomed to failure and frustration, and so on? to meet a stinging misfortune instead of the much hoped for happiness?
2. Relationship Between Desire and Happiness by Epicurus-Happiness Is the Satisfaction of Certain Desires Only
It is for this reason that the philosopher Epicurus recommends seeking to satisfy only certain desires, the most basic. Indeed, if the goal is to achieve pleasure; that is to say for Epicurus ataraxia, or “absence of pain in the body and of disturbances in the soul”, then it is advisable to flee desires. Disproportionate which will be very difficult to satisfy and which, consequently, will bring us more troubles than serenity. Epicurus distinguishes three categories of desires and pleasures:
(1) Natural and necessary desires/pleasures: e.g. eating and drinking when hungry and thirsty. These pleasures are all those that are natural and necessary for our survival.
(2) Natural but unnecessary desires/pleasures: e.g. eating refined foods
(3) Desires/pleasures that are neither natural nor necessary: ex: the desire for glory, for wealth, etc.
Epicurus asserts that only the pleasures of the category (1) need to be satisfied in order to reach ataraxia. The pleasures of the category (2) are to be avoided, as far as possible, because you have to learn to be content with little. Finally, the desires of the category (3) are to be avoided absolutely, because they will bring us many more evils (jealousy, etc.) and troubles than good.
Today, “epicurean” means “good life”: by this, we mean someone who eats well, who drinks well, who enjoys all the pleasures of life. But originally, the true Epicurean is more of an ascetic, an austere figure who lives in extreme simplicity, who eats only bread, olives, and water, and is content with it. The true epicurean is more like the monk in his monastery than the bon vivant in his restaurant.
We can push Epicurus’ theory a little further: if the goal is to achieve ataraxia, why not modify all of his desires, even the simplest, if they cannot be satisfied? Thus our happiness, which for Epicurus still depends on our ability to satisfy our pleasures, and therefore on the outside world, no longer depends on us. Those who only want what they can have will never be frustrated; on the contrary, all his desires will always be satisfied, and he will therefore experience perpetual happiness independent of fortune.
II – Modifying Our Desires: Stoicism
Happiness is in the restriction of our desires: such is the Stoic thesis. Indeed, if happiness consists in the satisfaction of our desires, this satisfaction can be achieved in two ways: (1) by adjusting the world to our desires, that is to say by seeking to have what we desire (epicurean method); (2) by adjusting our desires to the world, that is, by trying to desire what we have (Stoic method). This reversal of perspective (acting on oneself rather than on the world) is miraculous: it seems to make it possible to achieve absolute happiness, whatever the circumstances. But it is not without difficulty.
1. Change Our Desires
The Stoics (Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius are the best known) recommend first of all to distinguish between what depends on us and what does not depend on us:
“So remember this: if you believe subject to your will what is, by nature, the slave of others, if you believe that depends on you what depends on another, you will feel restrained, you will moan, you will have an anxious soul, you will attack gods and men. But if you think that only what depends on you depends on you, what depends on others what really depends on others, you will not feel never forced to act, never hindered in your action, you will not blame anyone, you will not accuse anyone, you will not do any act that is not voluntary; no one can harm you, no one will be your enemy, because no one misfortune will not be able to reach you. ” Epictetus, Manuel, I, 1
What depends on us are our desires and our thoughts: whatever is our work. What does not depend on us is the body (health and disease), wealth, reputation, power, etc. (Epictetus, Ibid.)
Once we have made the distinction between what depends on us and what does not depend on it, we can try to modify our desires: we must remove all our desires which bear on destiny (which does not depend on us) in order to be independent of wealth. If we only desire things that depend on us, our desires will always be satisfied, therefore we will experience perfect happiness.
“ Do not try to make events happen as you want, but want events to happen as they happen, and you will be happy.” (Epictetus, Manuel, VIII)
For example, if we are clearly aware of the distinction between what depends on us and what is on the contrary impossible, we will not desire to be healthy when we are sick any more than we desire to possess the kingdoms of China or the Kingdom of China. Mexico. And so we will not suffer from not having this completely inaccessible thing (health).
It is about changing our desires rather than “the order of the world”. But that does not mean a passive acceptance of our fate. The only thing that has to be accepted is the necessity, which we cannot change.
2. Be Satisfied With One’s Action: May Our Virtue Make Our Happiness!
We can go a little further. If we manage to limit our desires, in addition to the happiness of seeing them always satisfied, we will have the pleasure of having known how to control what depends on us (our desires) and of having been able to despise what does not depend on us ( the blows of fate). That is to say, the sage will rejoice in his strength of soul:
“So, feeling pain in their bodies, [great souls] practice to endure it patiently, and this test of their strength is pleasing to them; thus, seeing their friends in some great affliction, they sympathize with their evil, and do their utmost to deliver them, and do not even fear to expose themselves to death for it, if need be. But, however, the testimony given to them by their conscience, that they discharge their duty in this, and do a laudable and virtuous action, makes them happier than all the sadness, which compassion gives them, afflicts them. “Descartes, Letter to Elisabeth, May 18th, 1645.
3. Be Aware Of the Evils That Lie in Wait for Us
More generally, we need to be aware of ourselves, our desires, and the constraints that weigh on them. You have to see what a desire implies, what are the means to implement to achieve it. Imagine the consequences of your project, says Epictetus. For example, if you want to go to the pool, remember that at the pool there is the noise that you get splashed and pushed around, etc. (Epictetus, Manuel, I, 4; IV; XXIX, 1 and 2)
We must also be aware of what is the object of our desire or our love: Be aware of what is the object you love, so you will not be troubled. If you like a pot, tell yourself: This is a pot that I love. So the day it breaks, you won’t be troubled. Likewise, when you kiss a human being, tell yourself: I am kissing a human being. (Epictetus, Manuel, III)
It is, therefore, necessary, for Epictetus, to be aware of misfortunes and death, so as not to be disturbed by them on the day they arrive: “Let death be before your eyes every day. ” (Epictetus, Manuel, XXI)
One important point, however, is that it is only useful to think about the misfortune that awaits us if it allows us to avoid it. This is the idea of Spinoza, who will be remembered to stress the need to live as much as possible in joy rather than sadness:
“It often has to enumerate and imagine the common perils of existence and consider how to avoid them and overcome them as best as possible through the presence of mind and fortitude. But it is appropriate to do so. to note that in ordering our thoughts and our images we must always pay attention (…) to what is good in everything so that in this way we are always determined to act by an affect of Joy. ” Spinoza, Ethics, V, prop. 10, scolie
Moreover in Spinoza, the acceptance of destiny takes the form of the love of God, that is to say of Nature (the Universe, the Whole: Spinoza is a pantheist: for him, God does not designate anything of other than all of nature). Accepting fate means, for Spinoza, realizing that we are only a part of the eternal and indestructible Whole. To love the All is, therefore, to love ourselves and to conceive of ourselves “under the species of eternity”.
III – Suppress Our Desires: Pessimism
Happiness is in the suppression of desire: such is the “pessimistic” thesis. You could also say that, for the pessimists, happiness simply does not exist. By “pessimists”, I especially designate the philosophy of Buddha (which gave birth to the Buddhist religion) and that of Schopenhauer.
We have already mentioned these ideas, above, in the negative conceptions of desire. The consequence is simple: you have to stop desiring in order to break the cycle of reincarnations and reach nirvana, that state of absolute rest and bliss.
Let us add Christianity, which also represses desires: not because desire is suffering, but because desire is sin. But the idea is the same: it is the renunciation of desire that can bring us to the bliss of paradise. You have to give up this world to access the next.
IV – Transforming Our Desires: Sublimation
Happiness is in the transformation of desires: such could be a conception of happiness based on the idea of sublimation. Indeed, sublimation designates the fact of moving a desire towards an object other than its original object.
1. Desire and Happiness by Plato
One can have fun finding the process of sublimation in Plato, although neither the term nor the concept appears explicitly. Indeed, one can see a sublimation in the passage from the basic desires to the highest desires. For Plato, Eros is the semi-divine power that makes it possible to effect this conversion of the gaze, this elevation of man.
“Diotima: So this is the right path that must be followed in the domain of things of love or on which one must allow oneself to be led by another: that is, by taking one’s point of departure in the beauties of ‘down here to go towards that beauty, to always rise, as by means of steps, from one beautiful body to two, from two beautiful bodies to all beautiful bodies, and beautiful bodies to beautiful occupations, and occupations towards beautiful knowledge which are certain, then from beautiful knowledge which is certain towards this knowledge which constitutes the term, that which is none other than the science of the beautiful itself, with the aim of knowing finally beauty in itself. “Plato, Le Banquet, translate by Luc Brisson, 211b – 211c.
2. Desire and Happiness by Nietzsche
With Nietzsche, the idea of sublimation is already much more explicit. Recalling the distinction that Plato made between those who are fruitful according to the body and those who are fruitful according to the soul, Nietzsche analyzes the chastity of “those who are fruitful according to the soul”, that is to say, that great, fruitful, and inventive minds:
“It will always find [poverty, humility, and chastity] to some degree [in the life of all great, fruitful, and inventive minds]. Not in the least, of course, as if they constituted in a way their “virtues” – what do the virtues matter for this species of man! -, but as the cleanest and most natural conditions of their existence in what it has best, of their fertility in which is most beautiful. In this respect, it is quite possible that their dominant spirituality must have started by tightening the bridle on a frenzied and irritable pride or a malicious sensuality (…). But she succeeded, being precisely the dominant instinct, which imposed its demands in spite of all the other instincts – it still succeeds; if it did not succeed, it precisely would not dominate. (…) As regards (…) of the “Chastity” of the philosophers, this species of spirit clearly finds its fruitfulness elsewhere than in children (…). Any artist knows what harmful effect sexual relations exert in states of great tension and great spiritual preparation; (…) it is their “maternal” instinct which here mercilessly disposes of, for the benefit of the work in progress, of all the other stocks and supplements of force, of the vigor of animal life: the most important force then consumes the more modest. “Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morality, III, 8
It is from this idea of sublimation that Nietzsche distinguishes, in a way, a “good asceticism” and a “bad asceticism”: he denounces the Christian injunction to repress desires and passions and rather invites them to sublimate them, that is to say, to transfigure them, to “spiritualize” them:
“All passions have a time when they are only harmful, where they debase their victims with the heaviness of stupidity, – and a late, much later period when they marry the spirit, where they” spiritualize ” In the past, because of stupidity in passion, we waged war on passion itself: we conjured up to annihilate it, – all the old moral judgments agree on this point, “we must kill the passions. ”The most famous formula that has been given is found in the New Testament, in this Sermon on the Mount, where, by the way, things are not seen from a height at all for example with application to sexuality: “If your eye is an occasion for you to stumble, pluck it out”: fortunately no Christian acts according to this precept. Destroy passions and desires, only because of their stupidity, and to prevent the unpleasant consequences of their stupidity, that does not seem to us today to be I than an acute form of stupidity. We no longer admire dentists who pull out their teeth so that they no longer hurt … It will be admitted, on the other hand, with some reason, that, on the ground where Christianity developed, the idea of a “spiritualization of passion” could not be conceived at all. For the early Church fought, as we know, against the “intelligent”, for the benefit of the “poor in spirit”: how could one expect from her an intelligent war against passion? – The Church fights passions with radical extirpation: its practice, its treatment, is Castratism. She never asks: “How do you spiritualize, embellish and deify a desire?” “- At all times she has put the weight of discipline on extermination (of sensuality, pride, the desire to dominate, to possess, and to avenge). – But to attack passion at its root is to attack life at its root: the practice of the Church is harmful to life … “Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, VI, 1
Nietzsche encourages sublimation, but he refuses the idea that we are looking for happiness. He, therefore, values sublimation while devaluing the idea of happiness. So we can’t really say that Nietzsche recommends seeking happiness through sublimation. Rather, it should be said that he prefers sublimation, surpassing, to happiness…
3. Desire and Happiness by Freud
Extending Nietzsche’s analyzes, Freud developed a real theory of sublimation. For Freud, sublimation refers to the process by which the energy of a primitive drive (sexual or aggressive) is shifted towards socially valued goals (work, scientific research, artistic creation, etc.).
It would therefore be necessary to imagine man as a being having a certain amount of drive energy (or libido) which would naturally tend towards certain determined objects, just as the water of rivers flows naturally towards the sea. as natural rivers can be diverted by building canals to irrigate gardens, man could divert his libido from his natural goals and channel it towards cultural goals. He could thus put his animal, wild energy at the service of the ends given to him by his reason. One can think here of the Platonic image of the coachman guiding the black horse of desire.
For example, the desire for aggression that originally manifests itself in war may be sublimated in sport (for the people) or in oratorical contests in parliament (for the elite). We can interpret the whole process of civilization from the idea of sublimation: this is what the sociologist Norbert Elias did, relying on Freudian philosophy. We can also emphasize instinctual renunciation: Freud observed that culture is built on instinctual renunciation; Marcuse will say, in the revolutionary context of the 1960s, that this renunciation went too far, and that we suffer more from this renunciation than we benefit from its effects. The matrix for all these reflections can be found in “Malaise in culture”, a short work by Freud which studies the relationships between the spontaneous impulses of the individual and culture (religion, morality, etc.).
Another example of sublimation: use your bubbling energy to participate in the course rather than to chat, it will be a beautiful sublimation!