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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


VERHOEF, Anné H. Transcendence, chance and happiness. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2022, vol.62, n.1, pp.1-14. ISSN 2224-7912.

The question posed in this article is how happiness in life relates to transcendence and chance. This question is linked to questions about the core of our being as negation (something negative) and/or affirmation (something positive). Negation refers to the idea that the core of our being is meaningless, empty and defective. In this view, happiness becomes a futile effort to overcome unhappiness. Negation is a central theme in philosophical and theological traditions and is supported by the ideas of transcendence and/or immanence (chance). Affirmation suggests that something meaningful and happy lies at the core of our being. Then happiness is simply accepting affirmation and dismissing unhappiness. However, choosing between affirmation and denial of unhappiness means that the concept of happiness is attenuated and overlooks the creative and productive potential of negation. Instead, if, following Ricoeur, one argues that the negative can be strongly and creatively accommodated in our acceptance of our own complexity (Scott-Baumann, 2013:6), our understanding of happiness will be greatly affected. For instance, a combination of happiness and unhappiness as happiness - the dialectic of negation and affirmation - forms a direct challenge to the certainty of happiness and the despair of unhappiness. It implies, in addition, that one can face the world and its existence without fear (or the collapse of one's happiness) and live life to the full in the world. In other words, the option of escaping (to another world or in this one) the false security offered by happiness that negates negation crumbles. One now has the option of being at one with oneself - as happy and unhappy, as negation and affirmation - but also of being at one with others (all others, including those who suffer) and with the suffering physical world. Suffering or unhappiness need not be avoided or overcome for the sake of one's own happiness; it fundamentally forms part of one's happiness. Such happiness requires negation to be recognised as part of the core of one's being, because the negative (negation) is seen as an empowering, positive force that throws light upon the incompleteness and uncertainty of life, and at the same time shows us who we are and helps us to face the truths of suffering, famine and excess, despair and joy, in everyone of us and the world at large (Scott-Baumann, 2013:147). Our task - especially ifwe aim at being happy - is not to overlook or try to avoid these matters, but to see them, to allow ourselves to be affected by them, in order eventually to act compassionately and ethically. In summary one can say the following about the relationship between transcendence, chance and happiness: If happiness is understood as overcoming the fundamental defect or the negative of our existence (negation brought on by transcendence and chance), we remain caught up in an endless circle, trying to overcome unhappiness. One can try doing so in many ways, but in the final instance it remains impossible. One remains entangled by negation and finally in unhappiness. In this way unhappiness remains a problem for happiness. When happiness is seen as the rejection of negation and an embrace of affirmation, unhappiness and suffering are stripped of their potential creative and valuable power. Therefore, when unhappiness as something life-denying is rejected and when only the positive forces, powers and energies of life and nature - of chance (as affirmation) - are embraced, the potential positive meaning and power of unhappiness and suffering are forfeited and denied. Then happiness is nothing more than the unhappy task of rejecting or avoiding unhappiness at all costs, which, in turn, attenuates the complexity of our humanness and turns happiness into a selective (and perhaps unsympathetic) involvement only with that which is "good" and provides energy in life. The problem is that such an outlook on life requires a measure of self-understanding in which one wants to and may appreciate and experience only the good in oneself (and in others). This leads to a self-concept that is constantly undermined by the fact that our lives in part involve suffering, if only passively in the process of growing old. Ultimately, happiness is attenuated by this and once again becomes an unattainable goal. In a dialectic conception of negation and affirmation, the potentially positive in negation is appreciated. Unhappiness is recognised as fundamentally part of happiness. We lack nothing in the core of our being. There is no gap that results from chance, no fallenness determined by transcendence. Nothing fundamental needs to be overcome, not even unhappiness. This does not imply simply an acceptance of unhappiness; it implies living to the full the creative tension between negation and affirmation, a complex transaction between happiness and unhappiness in which we have the potential to live ethically responsibly - living with a sense of meaningfulness and a much fuller and happier sense of happiness. In practice, this means that we do not surrender who we are or what we can achieve. It means that, in spite of various ideas of transcendence and chance, meaning and happiness can be achieved in this immanent life and this world and can contribute to them.

Palavras-chave : transcendence; happiness; chance; negation; affirmation; unhappiness; Paul Ricoeur.

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