The Spinozist

writing by Paul Mendrik

The Philosophy Of Anxiety

May 8, 2020

Today ,we are witnessing a strange paradox. Whilst there is in the world, an aspiration for concrete happiness which can take a thousand forms, philosophy seems to be devoted to the formal studies of language and knowledge, unless, when wanting to be more concrete, it sometimes takes pleasure in describing what is called the tragic.

For a long time, in fact, since the end of the Second World War, philosophy has been dominated by the Heidegger doctrine. To him, the question of happiness did not even have the right to be quoted since his intention was to constitute anxiety as a major existential condition; by it, that is to say by the assumption of our being-towards-death, existance was supposed to gain its authenticity and finally relate it’s being through the awareness of its dereliction, its abandonment and his fall. Marked by this philosophy, Sartre strives to establish the very impossibility of happiness, while trying to demonstrate the impossibility of Being: the Absolute would be the contradictory synthesis of consciousness, transparent and mobile, and of the world, opaque and permanent.

The inaccessible Absolute is at the same time the inevitable object of our desire. The latter, as an insurmountable deficiency, would therefore condemn us to dissatisfaction. The coherent conscience should therefore simply assume a freedom to which it is condemned; but it is in anxiety and  joy that it would endorse dereliction, the loneliness and the indifferent equivalence of all its values.

Such pessimism, so far removed from the concrete preoccupations of common consciousness, can be linked, not only to Heidegger's philosophy, but also Schopenhauer’s, where happiness is explicitly posited as a negative.

Desire, which makes up the bulk of our reality (alongside intelligence without self-efficaciousness ), is characterised by privation, blindness and necessity. As the expression of the cosmic will-to-live, it tosses consciousness between the suffering of deficiency and the boredom of satisfaction: happiness could be nothing other than the very negative and momentary extinction of this desire and of the suffering that is implied in its essence.

Certainly, Nietzsche's philosophy attempted to criticise this ascetic and negative nihilism. But the Great South and the healthy life it offers are closely linked to pain and cruelty. Joy is mentioned, but it always includes, according to Nietzsche, attachment to the great suffering and the tragic.

Impossible or tragic, happiness therefore seems to be neglected by contemporary philosophy. In reality, this only prolongs one of the two main influences of classical philosophy: in Plato and in Kant, happiness was certainly taken into account in the construction of morality, but it was always the subject of metaphysical change. For Plato, wholeness and resplendence were only accessible in the intelligible world after death, since the desire for immortal happiness, present in earthly love, indicated spirituality and a path to knowledge of the sovereign good. For Kant, happiness was the expression of desire and could not constitute a reason for morality. This would require that one performs his duty out of pure respect for the Law, that is to say with moral intention stripped of all concrete desire. Thus accomplished, duty humbles personality and desire but by the same token, without conveying happiness, it makes the moral agent worthy of happiness. Happiness is therefore deferred. Condemned as the object of empirical action, it becomes the object of metaphysical hope. Indeed, Kant defines it as the synthesis of virtue and pleasure, an improbable synthesis since it is impossible to achieve it in our world and through human endeavour . It is after death, that God, if he so desires, will be able to carry out this synthesis and confer on the immortal soul a kind of perfection and felicity, which leads to the paradoxical synthesis between pleasure and virtue. But access to this beatitude which would be happiness as sovereign good, is always delayed, since the soul would approach it only in an asymptotic way. From Plato to Kant, we therefore expose as compulsory or desirable what is inaccessible. For Aristotle, happiness, which is indeed the supreme desirable (or sovereign good), must be achieved in this life. Like pleasure, it is the perfection and the completion of an act which expresses the fullness of its essence; pleasure is already a good in itself, but only happiness, more synthetic, expresses the highest specificity of man, which is contemplation. Augmented by measured pleasures, spiritual by knowledge and philosophy, active by politics, happiness is therefore both the most complete prospect of man and his highest virtue. This eudemonism, refined by epicureanism, has a familiar echo of the Renaissance in the Utopia of Thomas More. Beyond this still imaginary and literary utopia, the inception created by the positive current of ancient philosophy flourishes fully in Spinoza's work.