A Materialist Theory of Happiness
Keywords:happiness, encounter, materialism, automaton, týche, repetition, phallus, Benjamin, Lacan
If we had to identify the most controversial concept today, “happiness” would certainly figure among the main candidates for this role. On the one hand, “happiness” has represented one of the main ethical axes in the history of philosophy – from Greek eudaimonia to Bentham’s “greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.” Ethics was almost inextricably connected with the search for happiness, which was already in Greek synonymous for the “good life”. On the other hand, capitalism today, notwithstanding the general apathy and despair due to the permanent crises of the capitalist system (climate change, pandemics, financial crises, etc.), still legitimises itself with, if not guarantees, at least a promise of happiness. Despite different historical contexts which again and again gave meaning to the concept of happiness, a common denominator can still be identified, which today, in the era of late capitalism, has even gained the status of a cornerstone of our hegemonic image of happiness. Happiness is a question of being. The evocation of happiness usually raises the question of whether one is happy or not, what it means to be happy, and how we become so. Happiness is thus inextricably connected to the question of identity: it is the sensual expression of our being, of what we supposedly are. In contrast to this “ontologisation of happiness”, the article tries to show not only that there is a materialist concept of happiness, but also that the latter bases itself on the primacy of the verb “having” instead of “being”. From a materialist perspective, happiness is something that we have or encounter, and not something that we are. Two references are crucial in this articulation: first, Benjamin’s formulation of happiness from his last essay “On the concept of history”, and second, the Freudian-Lacanian theory of repetition.
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