The Spinozist

writing by Paul Mendrik

Does the expression of happiness have a common ground?

February 6, 2020

A number of subjects deserve to be treated distinctly according to the times. The articulation of happiness escapes this rule, in as much as happiness has been a permanent question for modern man since Greek Antiquity. Spinoza, who five centuries ago questioned the dependence of happiness on a religion or a transcendent relationship with God, decided that happiness is part of the very nature of human beings, something we must constantly explore.

A human being is a unified body-mind reality, at the centre of which evolves, on the one hand self-awareness, on the other desire, both calling out to each other and nourishing themselves unfailingly. Human beings have a permanent thirst for satisfaction. So when we are hungry, we eat until our desire has been satisfied. How to act so the greatest number of people experience contentment ? This is the ethics of joy.

What we are looking for is not a noble desire to earn merit, but desire that will be increasingly enriching. The most essential of them is our relationship with others. It gives contentment and joy, and initiates all other pleasures, as well as most importantly, our reason for living, because our satisfaction has been ratified by someone else. So it’s the other who gives us a reason to live. Rich, concrete, intelligent and, dare we say, spiritual satisfaction is at the heart of our desires. Even material desires,  such as wishing for more spacious or better insulated accommodation participates in a desire for enriched humanity, because the habitat is not simply a roof that protects us from the rain and the cold, it is a metaphysical place of profound significance where one conceives harmony with oneself and the world and where one experiences reparation.

The latter, like pleasure, is inscribed in all apparent material desire, because the sense to which human nature aspires begins to build itself in a worthy material life. As soon as mankind was able to produce wealth, it became a commentary on human meaning.

Desire is therefore not only a societal but also an eminently political issue and politicians are wrong not to think about it more. We should base politics on the pursuit of happiness. Not a program defining happiness and imposing rules on citizens, but to explore the conditions which will enable the foremost happiness for the greatest number. What’s more, this could bring about a policy of justice. Let’s not forget that in 1789, the French revolutionaries included in a version of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens - which was ultimately not retained - the right of man to know happiness. Happiness is indeed the foundation and the justification of any policy, since its fundamental mission is to work so that the citizens individually, and the nation collectively, are happy.