When happiness turns into ready-made kitchen and cosmetic recipes, amidst heaps of products, frenzied consumption and greedy market relations, the philosopher can once again intervene to distinguish between true happiness and happiness of satisfaction. When all succumb to the logic of a world that can give its inhabitants nothing but alleviators for several forms of misery and atrocity, the philosopher can also intervene to give the world a new concept of joy; joy of love, pleasure of art, joy of science and zeal of politics.
This is the purpose of the contemporary French philosopher Alain Badiou in his recently published book entitled “Metaphysics of True Happiness”, but why does a philosopher like Badiou need to use the word metaphysics in the title of his book on happiness?
What is the meaning of metaphysics after the declaration of its death by most philosophers of the twentieth century? What is “true happiness”? Is there real and fake happiness?
Badiou says, “In general, every philosophy, even if it is supported by complex scientific knowledge, renewing artifacts, revolutionary policies, and intense love situations, is a metaphysic of happiness, otherwise it does not deserve a single moment of trouble.”
Before we stop at the precise philosophical concept that Badiou proposes to us in this book, we will gather at the very first moment the basic features of Badiou’s philosophy, as he laid it out in his most important writings.
Anyone who is browsing Badiou’s philosophical path will stop at three major concepts that govern his general philosophical system: the event, the truth and the self. Truth is something that happens, not a theoretical matter that we contemplate, understand, prove or embody. There are no ready facts and no fixed facts that ultimately guarantee our existence. Badiou therefore introduces a new concept of truth as a fact that always emanates from the heart of an event. He thus contradicts the traditional perception of truth as a correspondence between the concept and the subject. He also defends the concept of truth against all the contemporary philosophical jeremiads that ended with abandoning truth under the pretext of losing the cosmic horizon by turning it into an incubator of fascism. Badiou is not impressed by the temptations of linguists, beauty theorists or liberal democracy. Truth is specifically an incidental exception, not a principle of efficiency or utility. It is a loyalty to a struggle against all forms of diversion of peoples into consumer machinery and into large markets for the contemporary system of capitalism. Truth does not exist for spectators, but it is always there for actors and for those who make it: the artist, the politician, the scientist and the lover. In this context, Badiou insists on making truth a request for what does not exist. Accordingly, Badiou paints a new philosophical horizon for the invention of new concepts, events and facts so that philosophy is based on a set of philosophical rules such as: “let us see what happens, not only what exists” or “make the multitude that is you, a body in another; an indelible matter of truth” or “truth is unexpected”. Badiou has nothing but bodies and languages, otherwise there are facts.
To present the idea of happiness as desired by Alan Badiou, the closest current philosopher to us, the people of a history full of misfortunes where miserable moments are more than happy ones, we will suffice with four theses we see enough to translate the depth of the new philosophical question about happiness:
- We must adhere to the desire for philosophy in order to distinguish true happiness from the happiness of satisfaction.
- Seeking happiness requires philosophy not to abandon the demand for truth.
- Being happy means the desire to change the world.
- True happiness is a loyalty.
A World not for Philosophy
Adhering to the desire for philosophy in order to distinguish true happiness from happiness of satisfaction is necessary. In a world in which those who manage its markets and manage the emotions of their inhabitants allege that this world is the free world that can make the happiness of its members the same way it manufactures goods, it seems that there is no need to change the world as long as we believe that we live in “the best possible worlds”. Such a world is not entirely suited to the desire for philosophy as the desire for real life. Thus, the contemporary world is not suitable for the idea of “free use of freedom”. This is what Badiou writes about the modern world: “In essence it is a world that is not suitable for the idea of rebellion in order to be free, nor is it appropriate for what we can call free use of such freedom, as long as freedom is found or previously found in the heart of infinite luster of manufacturing goods and in the heart of what financial abstraction achieves based on this freedom.” This world is a world of goods, not a world of freedom, a world of consumption, not a world of philosophy or happiness, because a world of goods cannot give us other than happiness of satisfaction; satisfaction of our infinite desires. So, a mass of goods cannot give us true happiness. Hence the title of Badiou’s book is “Metaphysics of True Happiness”. Here we stop at the most important theses of the book as the contemporary world does not give us other than false happiness; happiness of satisfying individual desires. The philosopher is required to reveal the falsity of this happiness and guide us to a different concept of happiness; true happiness. In order to be happy, you should reject the idea of being satisfied with what you have.
Philosophy should not abandon the demand for truth. What we need today to restore happiness to the world again is to re-establish the relationship between philosophy and truth. It restores the demand for truth or gives philosophy its ability to resist a world of falsehoods and fallacies. There is a great loss of philosophy when it abandons the demand for truth as it will not be able to face the contemporary world alone.
We urgently need an idea or value we call truth. We can risk stopping this crazy speed of the civilization of absolute goods. This means that we have to stick to a new idea of truth and universalism in order to bet on a new form of universalism against the universal terror that produced nothing but fascism.
For this reason, a different philosophical approach of interpretation, analysis and deconstruction should be found. It is an approach that is not related to jeremiads of the last twentieth century, which is the century of depression due to the sad end of history, philosophy, self and of the world itself. We now need a philosophical approach that reinforces the desire for truth as a deterrent to the logic of multiplicity of goods, multiplicity of meanings and fragmented existence, which, with its brilliance, inspire some contemporary people who do not believe in truth or desire for happiness, and against contemporary philosophical trends (interpretative, analytical and deconstructive) which led philosophy to lose the idea of truth. Alain Badiou suggests the desire for happiness as a desire for real life. We face a great scene without memory, and without the point of Archimedes, which one day brought the world to reality rather than this free fall in the market of goods which is eager to satisfy the endless desires of people. Contemporary philosophies have failed to give us the possibility of thinking about a new concept of happiness. In a world of speed and incompatibility, philosophy must enable us to determine, always in a timely manner, that something is good, and another is not good, and in a form away from this rapid and exciting rhythm. This is the task of philosophy in general, but its most dangerous task today is its ability to give slowness in terms of thought and time thereof. It tells each of us to slow down and not to speed up the pace in order to notice slidings and slopes. The speed of modern world is a blind speed, so it is a declining world. What can philosophy offer to this world without stopping the speed of its decline?
Why do we need philosophy? There are four elements to answer this question: First, we need it because the world of today is convinced that human sciences, which have become just pale statistics that cannot in any way replace philosophy. Second, we need it because of the defeat of the forms of collective self, such as the concept of class, and the transformation of our traditional arguments to think of such forms of common existence into weak arguments. Third, we witness fierce invasions of dangerous communal, religious, ethnic and national emotions, which are destructive for the great rationality of the collective self. In addition, there is a regression to the rational forms preceding the historical destiny of the collective concept, and we no longer have but weak arguments to think about rational forms of collective existence. Thus, philosophy is required to propose a rational form that it must defend. Fourth, we are in a world of terrible paradox. On the one hand, it proposes itself as the “best possible world”, but on the other hand it is a fragile and vulnerable world which is declining. Wars that currently destroy life in most countries are a sign of the fragility of this world and of what Badiou literally calls “Western Selfishness”.
Changing the World
To be happy means having the desire to change the world. This takes us to the idea that happiness is the result of encounters, for instance love, and not the product of satisfaction, because the self cannot find happiness, i.e its real life, in present life, but it must meet it in the midst of life. Meeting love, political, artistic or scientific truth is true happiness as “existence is capable of doing more than just continuing”. Happiness lies in the joy of lovers when finding love, the joy of scientists when finding scientific truth and the joy of artists at the moment of creativity.
So, the definition of true happiness, as Badiou imagines, is: “Happiness is always the impossible pleasure.”
Go on … Do not give up
Happiness is a kind of loyalty to the idea of the impossible. The concept of happiness, which is a demand for the impossible in a world where true happiness is impossible, requires that we activate the value of loyalty, but what is the meaning of loyalty intended by Badiou? Is it the loyalty of lovers who accept no form of treason? What is the meaning of loyalty to the impossible? Badiou means “loyalty to the event”, but is it about loyalty which is a conservative moral value?
Badiou refers to a new meaning of loyalty. According to Badiou, loyalty comes always under a new philosophical rule: “Go on … do not give up” your desire to seek the impossible. This concept is different from all doctrines which are based on waiting and negative pessimistic and sad values and are only valid to produce more slaves.
For this reason, there must be a self to create happiness and to enjoy it. In order to introduce this new form of self, one must distinguish between three characteristics of the self that can wish happiness: First, it is a self whose freedom is to create exceptional things within the world. It should be noted that true freedom is not to do what man wants, because what man wants is always appropriate for the world’s order. Indeed, true freedom is precisely the creation of what reality describes as exceptional, being against the world’s order. Reality produced by happiness is in contradiction with pressures of the world.
Second: Happiness cannot be closed to an identity, because the path of freedom is always an open and endless path. Accordingly, an artifact, a political revolution, a scientific fact or a moment of love is a matter of concern to all humanity and not to a person, race or identity whatsoever. Happiness, as an immanent exception, is a “homeless being”.
Third: Happiness lies in its self-discovery, its ability to create something that it does not know it can create. Happiness in this sense is a triumph over the end of man, and it is therefore completely contrary to all forms of satisfaction with what is happening to us and with false forms of happiness that the current world gives us. To be happy is to be dissatisfied with what is happening in your life and to seek a real life containing a new distribution of truth, happiness and life.
There is a possibility of happiness in a world burdened with misery to the bone. In such a world in which policy-makers are keen to show us only sad paintings and are immersed in the horrific narratives of misery, we need thought that guides us to new suns. There is always happiness if we try to look at life in a different way. Why do we all stare to one aspect? Why do we surrender to one image of the world while we can invent more beautiful ones by insisting on seeking the impossible? Why do we think this reality is the only possibility we can reach?
Spinoza says, “No one knows what the body can do.” Perhaps he could tell us today: None of us knows how capable he is of making himself happy. Why do we continue to narrate jeremiads of the world as if we have nothing other than this world and a single narrative about it?
If happiness is the impossible pleasure, let us do it because the impossible is humanly possible. Enjoy all the impossible you have because reality may be just the poorest possibility.
The philosopher is required to reveal the falsity of happiness of satisfaction and guide us towards the concept of true happiness. The relationship between philosophy and truth must be re-established to restore happiness to the world.