Thursday, July 7, 2011

Unhappiness as worthwhile?

SO, happiness, what is it? How can we attain it. In the Phenomenology of Mind, Hegel investigates the evolution of consciousness and the attainment of the Absolute. What’s most interesting is postulation of the concept of “unhappy consciousness.” which results from estrangement. Here’s a crude summary: Hegel illustrates the development of consciousness which relies on a life-and-death struggle that results in the figures of bondsman and lord. Bondsman must be aware of his subordinate position and for the lord, the bondsman is unessential and so he negates the bondsman’s consciousness. However, the lord feels unease at doing so, because earlier he had radically identified with the bondman in order to conceive of himself as independent. Therefore, he feels guilt over denying mutual identification. Social life, then, is based on competing moments of mutual identification and objectification. Moreover, the bondsman identifies with his labour and is able to establish some sort of independence through the things he creates. But self-consciousness that is aware of this duality is labelled by Hegel as “unhappy consciousness.” While I’ve oversimplified here, underpinning his description is the idea that with awareness and recognition comes moments of unhappiness. That is to say that recognizing our own otherness and the contradictions inherent in self-consciousness. This is not to say that Hegel would advocate the adage that “ignorance is bliss.” For, in fact, he turns to religious matters and describes this “unhappy consciousness” as other worldly consciousness where one devotes oneself to the Absolute which will be rewarded. In this case, unhappiness is worthy.
In my attempt to reach out to my readers, I wonder whether you can think of ways to complicate this? Or can you describe some unhappy moments? Can unhappiness be productive? The question I began with, what is happiness?

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