We now come to Schopenhauer’s main argument against the existence of happiness
All fulfilment, or what is generally known as happiness, is actually and inherently always only
negative and not positive. It is never original, coming from itself as joy, but must always be the
fulfilment of a desire. For desire, i.e. lack, is the prior prerequisite of every pleasure. But with
fulfilment the desire ends and thus also the pleasure. This is why fulfilment or joy can never
be more than the release from a pain, from hardship: for to these does not only every real,
apparent suffering belong, but also every desire whose importance disturbs our peace, even the
deadening boredom that makes a burden out of our existence
Schopenhauer goes on to recap the earlier quotations on the nature of desire, i.e. that once fulfilled, it brings forth a new one, ad infinitum. He then adds:
Directly given to us is always only the lack, i.e. the pain. But we can only conceive of fulfilment
and pleasure indirectly through the memory of the prior suffering and privation that had ended
with its appearance. This is why we are neither really aware of the good and advantages that
we actually possess, nor do we appreciate them, instead believing that this is merely the way
that things are: for they always only bring joy negatively, preventing suffering. Only after we
have lost them do their works become palpable: for the lack, the privation, the suffering is
the positive, the directly communicated. This is also why the memory of overcome hardship,
disease, lack, etc., makes us happy, because it is the only means to enjoy the present good.
Basically, given the prior definition of suffering as desire, pain and boredom, Schopenhauer contends that happiness only ever occurs when one of these is overcome, that is, it never appears on its own, in the absence of prior suffering.
For already gained happiness disappears together with the need that had preceded it, which we can see in the way that the importance of prior achievements soon fade into the background.
Should an achieved good be lost, we again feel the need that had been previously staved off through it. It is in fact only through the memory of a prior suffering that happiness occurs — one might say that it is a type of knowledge of an overcome need, or perhaps merely knowledge of the lessening of suffering, given that once one desire is fulfilled, another will appear in its place.
It would seem however that this, at least at first, is not very convincing — certainly the most obvious objection one might make is that this merely explains how happiness functions.
But since it is still experienced, it seems like this is merely a kind of a semantics game, or worse, that Schopenhauer is fundamentally mistaken in making happiness merely a kind of knowledge of the level of suffering being currently experienced.
Also, why does suffering have to have the sort of primacy presented here — could we not merely claim that happiness does exist, even if only under the above conditions?
These, as well as many more objections, are what we are going to turn to now, at the end of which we will see that while ’happiness’ is a valid concept, it is only so in the same way that ’no-people’ or ’solitude’ is — it is a description of a lack of something, rather than a description of a thing.