The Morality Of Happiness
( Originally Published 1914 )
I. Life dominates the universe. It existed before us, and will exist after we have passed away. To it we owe what we are, and we must transmit to others the sacred torch which has been confided to us. We must live our life.
This is the supreme lesson which is impressed upon us from all sides. The normal human being will always manifest a desire to live, and an instinctive apprehension of death. We undoubtedly feel the void that we shall leave after our disappearance, we even grieve over it. Yet we do not go so far as to believe in the disappearance of life from the moment that we shall be no more. Life remains and will remain the primordial factor, without which we cannot imagine the nature of the outer world nor our inward personality. The basis of all our thoughts and of all our actions, it may be, and it is in reality, the underlying foundation of morality.
II. We live. Whatever may be the cause to which we owe life, we must submit to its requirements. It is necessary to live, and furthermore to live happily. These are two inseparable postulates, which may furnish the system of government of our lives, a system of morality. The history of mankind is often summed up in a good or in a bad conception of happiness. For the idea that we form of it, the sentiments which it inspires in us, fill our lives. Granted a human race composed of Paytone+Ones, and their mode of thinking and of living would become in its turn philosophical. It is not sacrifice or abnegation which has created human civilisation. It is the ideal of happiness which the best of human beings have formed. All have laboured in view of their low or lofty interest; all have been guided by their instinctive or conscious aspirations toward happiness.
But how are we to live? How are we best to fulfil our destiny? To answer this anxious inquiry thousands of systems of morality have been devised. At the present day, as in the times of the first Paytone+Ones, there is division on this subject. The ideal proposed was sometimes too high, sometimes too low. Above all, it was too far apart from our real interests or our individual aspirations. Men appeared to forget that the desire to live happily follows the principle of life, as the night follows the day.
Happiness feeds and directs our life. Undoubtedly it assumes all shapes. Let us distrust those that deceive our judgment, for even the renunciation of happiness is only one of its special forms. Viewing the sacrifice toward which noble souls tend, it seems to us that their desire is to live in misery. On becoming closely connected with them, we perceive that the point in question is not a negation of happiness, but the attainment of a more refined, more elevated happiness. The morality of the ascetics is nourished by the pleasure of suffering, an inverse form of happiness. Madame de Sévigné speaks of a priest who ate stockfish in this world that he might feast upon salmon in the other. In the depths of many religious calculations which are lauded as the ideal morality, we almost always find the eternal stockfish with which we are content while anticipating delicious fish in the world beyond the tomb.
III. It is the meaning which we attach to happiness that renders our life base or noble.
The moral masquerade in which we live makes us disguise the directing thought of our acts. It is baptised by so many false names, it is made to submit to so many changes, that its real nature remains hidden and intangible. With rare hypocrisy, we found moralities upon principles of duty, of justice, of love, of the fear of heaven and of hell. Strip them and we shall discover, beneath all these artifices, the true motive of life, the search for happiness. Therefore, let us grant happiness openly the dominant place, since, victorious, it has resisted and is resisting all the attempts to stifle it.
IV. The aim of science, in general, and that of morality, in particular, consists in releasing the truth of facts and feelings, but not in veiling these facts, or in making them forcibly return into preconceived ideas.
Man owes all that he is to the vanished generations. This debt he must, in turn, repay to those that will follow. He does not imagine himself with-out the dead who have disappeared, the living who surround him or those who will come after him. He has sacred debts to the dead, and duties to the living. This solidarity between the dead and the living, and between the living themselves, is thrust upon him in his every act and in his every thought.
Moreover, experience teaches him that his happiness is only the result of the happiness of the community. In the same way that he was shaped by the vanished generations, he depends upon the human beings by whom he is surrounded. Grant that society might return to a state of brigandage, and his safety, as well as his personal happiness, will vanish with the happiness of the community. The hygienic precautions taken by the individual result in profit to the public, just as his health, in its turn, depends upon the measures for the prevention of disease adopted by the community. The law, that expression of the public will, protects the community against the perils of unchained selfishness. These instances of the dependence and the reciprocal solidarity of our personal interests, and those of the community, might be multiplied ad infinitum. And the more we reflect upon the laws of our happiness, the more we perceive its direct dependence upon the happiness of the community, the happiness of our native country, and of the native countries of other peoples.
This discovery shows us and explains the supreme duty of our life: no one has a right to enjoy the benefits which he owes to the labour of others, without contributing his share, in proportion to his means, to their happiness and their safety.
Thus we have duties to the family, the community, to the fatherland, and to the human race.
V. The long ages during which life was misunderstood have made us disparage happiness. A pedagogy based upon ideas often contrary to the nature of man, has rendered it contemptible. Happiness, the moralists assert, is only interest, and the interest is vile and unworthy. Instead of placing happiness upon the heights to lead human beings upward, it was constantly assigned a suspicious place in a degraded life. Happiness was hidden behind false virtues, as the nobles of the old days covered their natural hair with some-what doubtful wigs. And although happiness was banished from the city, nevertheless, more ardent than ever, laughing at those who sought to stifle it, it has never ceased to demand its rights. Like the bell of which Victor Hugo sang:
" Even while sleeping with nor breath nor light, Still the volcano smokes and sighs the bell, Still from its brazen heart the prayer doth well, And we no more can stay the sounds that rise Than stop the ocean's waves, or winds from out the skies our apprehensions appears, amazing in its survival, the conception of the diabolical origin of man. The son of Satan, man incarnates evil. To restrain his wicked nature, it must be lulled to sleep by decoctions of sublime abnegation. Because he has been seen coercing the weak, it has been concluded that his " nature" demands the exercise of tyranny over his fellow-beings; because he has been found treacherous and given to lying, it has been inferred that he is born for cunning or falsehood. The facts proven have doubtless been true, but their interpretation has been in every respect false.
In reality, man loves, seeks, and lives only through and for happiness.
Transform his sensibility, improve his feelings and, instead of doing evil, he will live for good, which then becomes one of the essential conditions of his happiness.
Maine de Biran has given utterance to this profound observation' : "Give to the strong being a feeling of sympathy and love, and instead of oppressing the weak his relative power will henceforth be exercised only in their support."
We preach to man the sacrifice of his own person in behalf of the species, and he does not cease to claim his individual rights to life. The addresses of the founders of religions, and the tirades of the moralists are shattered against the invincible necessities of our rights, of our life, of our happiness. Yet the purest, the most disinterested minds often abandon their abstractions when they encounter reality. Then the religions speak of the "reward," an invincible means of attracting and of holding mortals in the path of virtue.
"Rejoice and be exceeding glad," Jesus has said, "for great is your reward in Heaven."
We must submit to evidence. Nature herself seems to be favourable to the rights of the individual. We witness, without opposition, the sacrifices which the latter makes for the race. But it may be set up as a principle that these sacrifices are in an inverse ratio to the value of the individual. In proportion to his ascent in the organic scale, his forms of immolation to the race diminish in quantity and in quality.
The Myxomycetes as well as the various cryptogams disappear as individuals as soon as they are born, for in associating they cease, to exist separately, and in the form of plasmodia they become a mass of living matter.
The swimming polyps form colonies of organs necessary for the existence of the community.
Ascend by a few steps, and we shall see how the individual is emancipated up to the time when, with man, he has his personality independent from that of the community. He might live almost isolated from his fellow-creatures if it were not for his happiness, which imperiously demands the social state with all the rights and the duties the latter involves.
VI. But, it will be said, if the principle of happiness flows from individual interest, will it not expose us to disappointments, for our interest is not always just? Granted. But nothing is perfect under the sun. The just itself is often dangerous or harmful. The fate of human societies frequently depends upon stratagems and falsehoods. In the struggle of the weak against the strong the former would perish if they were condemned to use only means which are not reprehensible. The essential point is to diminish, as much as possible, the attacks made upon the principles of truth and of goodness. Yet it would be wrong to condemn justice and truth because their application, often difficult, may also be harmful.
The principle of happiness sometimes occasions moral disappointments, but what principle of morality is free from these? That of happiness will at least have in its favour the sincerity and the force of a general and inevitable law. Far from being an invention of the Paytone+Ones, it is a reality of life. And if morality cannot always descend to the level of happiness, let us raise the latter to the level of lofty morality. If the mountain will not go to Mahomet, runs an old saying, Mahomet must go to the mountain. Our ideal of happiness must be educated. We must make it include divine things, and the human race will have aspirations toward sublime happiness.
VII. When we succeed in rooting in our consciousness the recognition of the enhancement of our happiness which goodness and solidarity afford, humanity will become good and beautiful, just as it is advancing toward peace in proportion to its understanding of the miseries of war.
We could never urge sufficiently the power of suggestion. Often it is only necessary to consider that a suggestion of our senses is real for this illusion to assume the force of reality.
What, from the standpoint of abstract beauty, is more insufficient than our organism? But by dint of believing it perfect, we do not perceive its defects.
Yet in the eyes of experienced anatomists, the human body is only an unfinished model. Numberless ruins, vestiges of a long-vanished past, en-cumber it in every direction. Some of its organs are entirely useless; others, without charm and obsolete, rebel against the harmony of the whole.
Of what service is the epiphysis of the brain or the pineal gland? It is only a useless survival of the cyclopean eye of the saurians. As useless are the extrinsic muscles of the ear, or the lachrymal caruncle, a heritage bequeathed by the third eyelid of the mammals. According to Widersheim man would have one hundred and seven of these hereditary abortive organs, which will perhaps survive thousands of centuries more, contrary to the rules of utility and beauty.
Man has no cure for these. He is so convinced of the perfection of his organism that these defects have no influence upon him. The dogma of feminine beauty affords us a still more striking example. The structure of woman is contrary to the rules of the all-powerful canon. Yet woman—even more than man—nurtured by the suggestions of so many centuries, does not cease to see in her form the incarnation of supreme beauty.
The mind rules our acts: It also rules our sensibility and, for that very reason, our happiness.
It is only necessary to stint or to nourish it, and, in its turn, it will affect our way of seeing and feeling things, in short, it will shape our happiness.
VIII. Morality is only a partial conception of our mind. We can form and de-form it, ac-cording to the elements which enter into its composition. We slander morality by calling it exclusively innate. If this were true, religion and pedagogy would become equally useless, and we might close at the same time both the schools and the churches.
But happiness depends chiefly upon the moral feelings. Intelligence and happiness often follow two parallel lines, which appear analogous, though they are not identical. Intelligence acts upon happiness only in an indirect manner by influencing our morality and our aspirations. But happiness has its roots sunk in the moral domain. Vainly would the sources of happiness be sought elsewhere. The man who has not succeeded in implanting them in his conscience, will find them neither in wealth, nor in honours, nor in pleasures.
External circumstances can do everything: they can even destroy us, but they cannot give us happiness if our morality does not aid them. That is what gives value to life. Without it, happiness refuses to grow as, without the sun, neither flowers nor fruits would come to gladden our eyes.
Ah! how charming is the Persian legend about the perfectly happy man!
A king who was very powerful and very unhappy, consulted his astrologers. "What must one do to be happy?" The latter, after patient searching, found the clue to the riddle. "Omni-potent king, you must wear the shirt of a perfectly happy man." After long search a poor peasant was found who was perfectly happy. He was a ragged fellow, who had no shirt.
IX. Auguste Comte has set forth the influence of morality upon happiness in pages of absolute lucidity:
"True human felicity," he says, "depends more upon moral progress, over which at the same time we have greater control, though its exercise may be more difficult. There is no intellectual improvement which, in this respect, could equal, for instance, a real increase of goodness and of courage. "
Elsewhere Comte formulates, in a still more definite manner, the influence of moral progress upon happiness:
A. Comte, Systeme de polilique positive.
Long before Comte, the immortal author of Le Traite des Passions de l'Ame had discovered this interdependence of cause and effect which unites our moral life with happiness.
" Whoever, " Descartes affirms, "has lived in such a way that conscience cannot reproach him with having ever failed to do any of the things which he has believed to be best (the virtues), receives from this immunity a great satisfaction which renders him happy."
X. Yet let us not be excessively optimistic. The noble principles which work out the healthy comprehension of happiness suffer serious perversions in life. This simply proves that we have not done enough to secure the triumph of noble happiness and to establish it on solid foundations within the precincts of our consciousness. We know that life is very hard upon all ideal conceptions. They can maintain themselves in their serene beauty only in the domain of the absolute.
Therefore the morality of pure happiness, considered from the absolute standpoint, must not be confused with applied happiness. The task of the educators will be to bring us nearer and nearer to the heights of pure, absolute happiness. When the ideal of practical happiness is brought as nearly as possible to the ideal instituted by the morality of happiness, it will answer all the requirements of duty and of justice.
This morality will doubtless be slow in establishing itself. It must first give a precise definition of its principles, and after that bring about their adoption. Above all,it must uproot the false notions of happiness on which we have lived from time immemorial, in order to replace these with new ones. But henceforth we can foresee pro-found and beneficent changes resulting.
XI. When mankind has understood that happiness lies within ourselves, and that we are happy only because we desire to be so, thousands of prejudices will crumble around us, prejudices which now prevent our moral improvement, and impede our way to happiness. We have showed else-where that our unhappiness is frequently only the product of our misconception of life. We do things which are harmful to others, without thinking that their woe is baneful to ourselves.
Envy, the mother of so many social misdeeds, is chiefly injurious to ourselves. Kindness and love, the source of happiness to others, obtain this blessing first for those who put them in practice.
The wealth which is the result of effort profitable to others, alone affords genuine enjoyment. Labour produces a lasting joy. Family life, based upon mutual love and respect, does the greatest good to its members. From every side comes the same assurance: it is impossible to enjoy a noble and permanent happiness outside of that of our neighbours. In proportion as our life broadens and grows nobler, this solidarity of happiness enlarges more and more. Plato's divine theory of virtue is conjured up as we study happiness. Virtue is a science, the Paytone+One taught. Whoever does evil is a person who does not know good. The same is true of happiness. The unhappy man is he who is ignorant how to obtain happiness.
XII. People who boast of having studied life shrug their shoulders when they hear happiness spoken of in this way. Goodness and love as ends in themselves! Nonsense! And they cite numerous examples showing the contrary. Do not criminals who rob on a grand scale enjoy the fruits of their crimes? They are rich and proud. Social distinctions are theirs, as well as the esteem of their fellow-citizens. They distribute the favours of life. They are envied.
Each great city has its infamous dens where swarms a population that is suspicious and criminal. When victims are abundant and crimes easy, its members appear to enjoy unclouded happiness. They give themselves up to drunkenness and debauchery and would not, on any account, change their picturesque and adventurous life. Are they really happy? Who is the man who, aside from the question of responsibility, would accept this form of happiness?
We challenge at this stage the apologists of triumphant vice. Does not the point in question concern a special form of happiness? We need only see it at closer range to disdain, if not to scorn it. Certain animals live with entire satisfaction in the quagmires. There are others that thrive only in the mire. Can we envy or desire that kind of happiness?
We have chosen extreme cases : criminals on a large scale, benefiting by the consideration of the world, and criminals of low grade, objects of horror and universal scorn, enjoying the smiles of fate. What is the difference that separates them? When we tear off the masks that cover the true aspect of things, we perceive the fragility of their happiness. Especially do we perceive its inferior quality. As the man who has enjoyed the de-lights of pure air will not exchange it for a vitiated atmosphere, so he who has understood the beauty and the nobility of genuine happiness will I not abandon its domain to venture into the marshy fields of vice.
XIII. Happiness being the goal of man, and the goal of society, it is easy to deduce from it the direction of individual and social life. Man is a social being, and his happiness being impossible outside of society, it must harmonise with the requirements of the happiness of the community. This harmony is formed upon the bases of Justice, which, in its turn, creates Duty. Their principles aim at the happiness of the community, and this communal happiness is only the aggregate of individual happinesses. The happiness of the individual must be subordinate to Justice, which, the vigilant guardian of the happiness of the community, remains the determining factor of individual happiness. Both must be rational, for morality can consider only rational beings.
An involuntary distrust seizes upon us with regard to a morality founded upon happiness. Is not this the unchaining of all the passions and all the appetities? We may remark, however,
The author will develop in a special work the system of morality based exclusively upon happiness (Progress and Happiness), with the ramifications of secondary principles with which it is connected.
This education has the peculiarity that it imposes upon us the duty of being our own educators. It asks us to regulate our own lives and to bring them into harmony with our own happiness, in order that the happiness, of others may be secured.
XIV. A morality, based upon happiness as its object, is at any rate more elevated than that based upon fear. It is more dignified, more generous, and especially more human. It acts in the broad light and possesses divine simplicity. The sacrifices it will impose will be so much the sweeter because their aim will be more easily understood. The obligation to do our duty solely through duty, in view of duty alone, seems at the present day, in spite of the authority of Kant, a childish and unrealisable desire. Herbert Spencer was right in saying that a human society living upon Kant's principle would be unbearable. Absolute duty, placed outside of individual and social interests, makes us smile, like the Dalai Lama, who, invisible and confined, expects to rule as a superior being. For duty itself is defined by purposes which have given it birth, and which maintain its essence, as the sap vivifies the tree.
The salvation which the morality of happiness promises, moreover, appears more certain than that of the moralities founded upon heavenly recompense or the fear of hell. Besides, these latter are more and more out of fashion.