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Title: Happiness
Original Title: Bonheur
Volume and Page: Vol. 2 (1752), pp. 322–323
Author: Jean Pestre (biography)
Translator: Nelly S. Hoyt; Thomas Cassirer
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link
Source: Nelly S. Hoyt and Thomas Cassirer, trans., The Encyclopedia: Selections: Diderot, d'Alembert and a Society of Men of Letters (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965).

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America.

Citation (MLA): Pestre, Jean. "Happiness." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Nelly S. Hoyt and Thomas Cassirer. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Bonheur," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 2. Paris, 1752.
Citation (Chicago): Pestre, Jean. "Happiness." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Nelly S. Hoyt and Thomas Cassirer. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Bonheur," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 2:322–323 (Paris, 1752).

Article by the Abbé Pestré. This article takes up one of the main themes of the eighteenth century which witnessed the publication of countless treatises on happiness. The subject has recently been treated in great detail in French by R. Mauzi, L'Ideé du bonheur dans la littérature et la pensée françaises au dix-huitième siècle (Paris: Armand Colin, 1960). [Translator note]

Happiness. Is taken here to mean a state or situation which we would like to see continue forever unchanged. This is what distinguishes happiness from pleasure, which is no more than a feeling that is agreeable but short and fleeting. Pleasure can never be a state, while it is possible to speak of a state of pain.

All men are one in their desire for happiness. Nature has made happiness a law of our being, and all that is not happiness is alien to our disposition. It alone has unmistakable power over our hearts, it attracts us all through an instant inclination, a powerful charm, and an irresistible attraction. Happiness is the charm and perfection of Nature and she has indelibly engraved it on our hearts.

All men also agree on the nature of happiness which they identify with pleasure, or at least they agree that it owes to pleasure its greatest delight and stimulation. If happiness is not enlivened from time to time by pleasure, it is not so much true happiness as a state of tranquillity, a very sorry kind of happiness indeed! If we are left in a state of lazy indolence that offers no stimulus to our activity, we cannot be happy; our desires can only be fulfilled by our being transported out of this listlessness in which we languish. Joy must flow into the innermost recesses of our hearts, it must be stimulated by pleasant feelings, kept in motion by gentle shocks, filled with delightful variety, it must intoxicate us with a pure pleasure that nothing can spoil. But man's condition does not allow for such a state: pleasures cannot accompany every moment of our life and the most delightful state includes many periods of languor; once the first flame of feeling has died down, the best we can hope for is tranquillity. As we stated at the beginning of this article, our most perfect happiness in this life is only a state of tranquillity that is enlivened from time to time by moments of pleasure .

Thus the differences of opinion between philosophers regarding happiness touch not on its nature but on its efficient cause. Their opinion is basically the same as that of Epicurus for whom felicity consisted essentially in pleasure; see this article. Possession of goods is the foundation of our happiness but it is not happiness itself, for what would we gain if we had power over possessions and did not know it? The madman of Athens who believed that he owned all the ships arriving at Piraeus enjoyed the happiness of riches without having any; yet it may be that those who really owned the ships had ownership without pleasure. When Aristotle defines happiness as the knowledge and love of the highest good, he apparently intended to define only the basis of happiness. Otherwise he would be grossly in error, for if one were to separate pleasure from this knowledge and love, one would see that something more is needed to make men happy. Stoics who taught that happiness consisted in the possession of wisdom were not so unreasonable as to imagine that the idea of happiness should be separated from the inner satisfaction which they gained from this wisdom. Their joy flowed from the exaltation of their soul which complimented itself on an inner strength it did not possess. All men are in general agreement on this principle and I do not know why some authors have preferred to show them in disagreement when it is indubitable that men have never thought more alike on any other point. The miser delights only in the anticipation of enjoying his riches, that is, in feeling the pleasure he derives from owning them. It is true he makes no use of them, but that is because his pleasure consists in preserving them. The miser loses himself in the feeling of ownership, he finds happiness in this fashion. Since he is happy, why should we deny his happiness? Does not everyone have the right to be happy according to his whims? The ambitious man seeks honors only for the pleasure of seeing himself elevated above others, the vindictive man would not seek revenge if he did not hope to find his satisfaction in it.

This undisputed maxim is not in contradiction with the moral commandments and the religion of Jesus Christ, our legislator and our God, who has come to perfect nature, not to destroy it. He does not ask us to renounce love of pleasure and does not condemn virtue to an unhappy existence on earth; His law charms and attracts us and consists entirely in the love of God and of one's neighbor. The well of legitimate pleasures flows no less for the Christian than for the unbeliever, but in the order of grace the hope of future blessings brings the Christian infinitely more happiness than his present possessions. The happiness he enjoys on earth is to him only the seed of an eternal happiness. He finds his pleasures in moderation, good works, temperance, and a good conscience. These are noble, pure, spiritual pleasures, far superior to sensual pleasure. See Pleasure [Pleasure (Ethics), Pleasure (Synonyms)]. [1]

Certainly anyone who preached that virtue was so rarefied that it excluded all feelings of joy and pleasure would only repel our hearts. The heart opens only to pleasure—that is in its nature—only pleasure can reach all its secret recesses. We may possibly respect a virtue that is not accompanied by pleasure, but we will not be drawn to it. I admit that the same pleasure is not suited to all of us: some prefer vulgar pleasures, others the pleasures of refinement, some keen, others lasting pleasures, some sensual and others spiritual pleasures, and yet again some prefer the pleasures of feeling and others the pleasures of reflection. But all without exception seek pleasure. Refer to that article [Pleasure (Ethics), Pleasure (Synonyms)] .

In the works of M. de Fontenelle we find judicious and wellfounded reflections on happiness. [2] It is true that our happiness does not entirely depend on ourselves since it is not within our power to have fortune place us in a humble station, where we would be most likely to enjoy a tranquil existence and thus be happy. Yet our way of thinking does have a certain effect on our condition.


1. [The article on pleasure ( Plaisir ) is anonymous; to judge by its style it could well be by Diderot. It takes up the same arguments as the present article, stresses the position that virtue brings us pleasure, and includes a lyrical description of the delights of nature, as proof of the contention that the pleasures of the mind are superior to the pleasures of the body.]

2. [Fontenelle (1657–1757), one of the foremost men of letters of his time, and a precursor of the Enlightenment, published one of the first of the century's treatises on happiness ( Du Bonheur , 1724) which was immensely popular. The first paragraph of the present article is taken from Du Bonheur .]