Can clarity make us happy?  With André Comte-Sponville

Can clarity make us happy? With André Comte-Sponville


To speak of joy and happiness, of the lucidity also which is perhaps its condition, André Comte Sponville, author of some thirty books but whose first, almost forty years ago, was precisely titled Treatise on Despair and Blissis the guest of “Under the sun of Plato”, in the cave of France Inter.

Can clarity make us happy?

André Comte Sponville reflected through his readings of other philosophers, but also through his personal life. He experienced tragedies, the suicide of his mother, and the death of his 6-week-old baby from meningitis.

The thinker invites us in this program to adopt lucidity and delivers us an accessible and inspiring philosophy happiness, or as he puts it “cheerful despair”.

Should we prefer lucidity to illusion?

André Comte Sponville answers in the affirmative to this question, without a shadow of a doubt. Lucidity is better than illusion: “lucidity is first of all an intellectual requirement. For an intellectual, it is ultimately a moral requirement. I remember a conference 30 years ago in Spain on illusion. We were about ten French intellectuals and I was surprised to see that nine out of ten, all but me, celebrated illusion. I, on the contrary, celebrated disillusion because it seems to me that the love of truth is the first virtue for an intellectualso lucidity in itself is better than illusion, than lying, etc.

As for whether lucidity makes you happy, the philosopher has a more nuanced answer: “I wouldn’t say that lucidity necessarily makes you happy, but I would say that illusion very often makes you unhappy because it doesn’t hold up. Finally, each time you have illusions about reality, the real calls us to order, each time we live a hope, we end up being disappointed.”

For him, lucidity is a condition for happiness: “Because when we have illusions about reality, we end up being disappointed. And therefore lucidity, without always being sufficient for happiness, is a condition of lucid happiness. And then happiness without lucidity is an illusory happiness. We don’t want that. We want to be happy in the truthin what little truth we have access to.”

His mother committed suicide when he was in his thirties. He explains this gesture of desperation by disappointment, as he says: “Mom killed herself out of disappointment. She killed herself because for years, life hadn’t matched her hopes. […] My idea, that’s what I defended in my first book, is that when life doesn’t correspond to the hopes we had made of it, it’s not life that’s wrong, it’s are our hopes which, from the outset, are vain, illusory, false.”

What is happiness ?

André Comte Sponville describes what happiness is, so fragile: “The greatest moments of happiness are precisely the moments when I had nothing more to hope for. If you hope it lasts, you are afraid that it will not end. And already, your happiness is no longer is purer if you will. And so I had experienced that there is indeed a cheerful despair and that deep down, the greatest joys are recognized by the fact that they leave nothing more to hope for.”

He delivers a hollow definition: “happiness is simply the opposite of unhappiness. You are going to tell me we are not very advanced, we are considerably advanced because happiness, at the limit, no one knows what it is. […] But the misfortune, we know what it is. Unhappiness is not at all an ideal. It’s an experience, at least for all those who have been really unhappy at least once in their life.”

“Love life as it is”

For the philosopher, you better stop deluding yourself. The dream is not necessarily synonymous with happiness, far from it. He explains : “there comes a time when it is better to love life as it is, including with its anxieties, than to perpetually dream of a life without anxiety. In other words, let’s stop dreaming of wisdom. There is a formula that always seemed to me to sum up a form of contemporary debility. It’s the formula ‘Go after your dreams’. But of course most of our dreams are perfectly silly or unrealizable. Or else, if we want to save the formula , I offer you the following formula ‘Go after your dreams: wake up’.”

This fascinating episode is to be listened to in its entirety…

Some works by André Comte-Sponville

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