1. The definitions of “happiness” and “suffering” are either not broad enough or too broad, too vague, or only of subjective worth.

As for the first of these objections that the concepts here are too broad, I do not think this to be the case (but see the next objection).

This could be the case, however I am quite uncertain of what else might be put under the label of suffering, since it includes all states of striving, physical and mental anguish, as well as boredom.


Normally, the concept does encompass these things, and the same goes for happiness as the opposites of them in the forms of fulfilment, joy and freedom from boredom. As for being too broad, the same response applies; suffering and happiness seem to me to be adequate labels for these phenomenon.


Now of course there might be other words that one might use the term “happiness” for, such as religious experiences, aesthetic pleasures, laughter or something else entirely. I would argue however that it is not clear that these “feelings” are suitably described as either forms of happiness or suffering. Some descriptions of them might fall into one category (being filled with the spirit that one worships, being struck by the beauty of a painting, laughing at something funny) or the other (powerlessness in the face of a spirit of worship, struck with awe by a painting, the laughter of despair or madness).


But I think there is reason to believe this to be fundamentally mistaken, for the reasons given by Schopenhauer in his discussion of the word “feeling”: Aesthetic experiences, laughter and religious experiences are of a fundamentally different nature. Each of these would require a different sort of argument, but perhaps I can outline certain directions of argument that one might make for these positions.


Laughter occurs in light of something absurd being perceived, where certain concepts do not fit together in a way that is expected. It deals, then, with abstract concepts that we have, and how our expected relationship amongst them is thwarted by an event that we experience or are told about. No need seems to be relieved by this process, so it appears to be something quite other than suffering. I don’t find the label happiness fitting here, for it feels very different to be laughing rather than having joy, fulfilment or something related to these. Also, as shown in the examples I chose above, laughter is not bound to these phenomena.


I would say that it would be better to not categorize laughter as either happiness or suffering, though I would not deny that it might have some relation to both of them; for example that laughter can relieve tension, which then can bring joy to inform us that the tension has been lifted. Claiming that laughter should then count as a form of happiness would be to relegate it to a mere form of relief from suffering, which would suppose that there are no forms of laughter that can accompany suffering or be simply unrelated to either.



Aesthetic experiences, I would say, are also different, in that they have a very specific sort of evaluative feeling that seems to be able to evaluate, experience and “appreciate” objects of aesthetic experience completely divorced from any kind of suffering or happiness — we might even suffer through a specific kind of aesthetic experience, such as feeling reduced to nothing by the vastness of the cosmos, or horrified by a particular story portrayed on stage, film or in a video game. Similarly, we might be able to both aesthetically appreciate and be filled with joy by a heart-warming picture. But aesthetic appreciation is not dependent on either, and like laughter above, cannot be reduced to either suffering or happiness.


Religious experiences are quite tricky, and perhaps too much of a subjective character to list here, as it is rather difficult to make statements about something of this sort, but perhaps some general notions might be shared here. Should the objects of religious experience be real things, then it does not seem to be the case that they are forms of suffering or happiness, but rather a special kind of knowledge of their object.


If the religious experience does not point to anything outside of the natural — I only mean to use this word very loosely here — world, then the kind of experience it signifies might be, if it is not merely a misidentified feeling belonging to some wholly other category, one that either satisfies some kind of need or it is something specific that is independent of such a satisfaction. While I do not believe the former to be the case, we might say that in such a case it would merely be another form of relief from suffering, and could then easily be put under the category of happiness, with no ill effects to our definitions.


If the latter is true, then the current lack of data documenting the various claims of religious experience do not, I think, allow us to make any sort of judgement on what category it could belong to, or if it is some sort of happiness over and beyond what we have currently defined.


However, we might briefly try to broach the subject to give a picture of why I am sceptical that “happiness” is to be found here: from the little I know of them, I would say that they are more to be compared with suddenly joyous realisations — mistaken or not—of a form of order, or pieces of facts coming into connection with one another, over and beyond what was expected, which is evaluated as having a high value or as being of great significance and importance (and one’s relation thereto), often accompanied by feelings of elation and force that spreads through some parts of the body.


This latter would be the “joy” and “happiness” that the religious bring into connection with their entities of worship. Perhaps one might more easily describe it as “being part of something big”, which would easily reduce this to some kind of satisfaction of a great need to be a part of something of importance, but I feel this would be mistaken, or at least not universally true for all such experiences. However, I think the discovery of something that is evaluated as something of unexpected, and thus comparatively enormous, significance is what is in play here, and that it would thus — as my examples above sought to show — not be specifically linked to either happiness or suffering, though it can coincide with them. A great awe and terror may just as well come over one in such instances.


As for the last part of this objection, that suffering and happiness are only of a subjective character: I think this relies on a misunderstanding of the argument. Of course it might be granted that without subjects, suffering and happiness do not exist. However, they do exist for each subject that there is.


Again, the categorization of things into “suffering” and “happiness” is not an evaluative one of “bad” and “good”, which may or may not be subjective. Thus, other than when speaking of epistemological or alethiological relativism, we are not talking about something that is “only subjective” in this sense of subjective, since it is true of all subjects. I do grant that the level of suffering may indeed be subjective; that would involve the capacities for suffering and happiness which Bahnsen called “Posodynik”, dealing with whether or not a certain person is more easily satisfied, stemming from his ability to better grasp all that is currently in his favour, instead of what is not (which Schopenhauer fits under the label of “Eukolos”), and the opposite kind of person that is less easily satisfied, and more capable of grasping all that is not in his favour, instead of what is (“Dyskolos”).

But these factors do not affect the fundamental distinction between the concepts of happiness and suffering, only the degree to which they are felt, and how often they are felt.


2. Categorical errors might be in play when we use the definitions given here of suffering and happiness, since boredom, the various forms of striving and satisfaction, as well as physical and mental pains and relief thereof are all phenomenologically different. It is true that a more in depth exploration of the various concepts that make up our definitions of suffering and happiness would be required to understand these phenomena better. However, I do not think this would change anything for Schopenhauer’s argument; in the same way that it does not matter whether or not these “emotions” have a causal role, or only are what it is likenesses of certain states of affairs, it does not matter how exactly different forms of joy relate to one another to be put under the label of joy, and thus happiness.



However, this does not mean that I would deny that some forms of joy are so dramatically different from other forms, that they really should be taken outside of the label of “joy” — this often occurs in more in-depth investigations of concepts, especially ones associated with the concepts “feeling” or “emotion”.


Whether or not these sorts of investigations would yield fundamentally different forms of joy, relief and/or satisfaction that do not only not fall into our definition of happiness, but can qualify as having a positive ontology, is not something that I can ascertain; I will however say that of all the objections, this is the candidate that would probably yield the most fruitful results that could be brought against Schopenhauer’s argument — I have significant doubts that such a project would succeed however, given the nature of the arguments brought forward here.

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