The Birth of Hedonism

The Birth of Hedonism: The Cyrenaic Philosophers and Pleasure as a Way of Life

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 304
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    The Birth of Hedonism
    Book Description:

    According to Xenophon, Socrates tried to persuade his associate Aristippus to moderate his excessive indulgence in wine, women, and food, arguing that only hard work can bring happiness. Aristippus wasn't convinced. Instead, he and his followers espoused the most radical form of hedonism in ancient Western philosophy. Before the rise of the better known but comparatively ascetic Epicureans, the Cyrenaics pursued a way of life in which moments of pleasure, particularly bodily pleasure, held the highest value. InThe Birth of Hedonism, Kurt Lampe provides the most comprehensive account in any language of Cyrenaic ideas and behavior, revolutionizing the understanding of this neglected but important school of philosophy.

    The Birth of Hedonismthoroughly and sympathetically reconstructs the doctrines and practices of the Cyrenaics, who were active between the fourth and third centuries BCE. The book examines not only Aristippus and the mainstream Cyrenaics, but also Hegesias, Anniceris, and Theodorus. Contrary to recent scholarship, the book shows that the Cyrenaics, despite giving primary value to discrete pleasurable experiences, accepted the dominant Greek philosophical belief that life-long happiness and the virtues that sustain it are the principal concerns of ethics. The book also offers the first in-depth effort to understand Theodorus's atheism and Hegesias's pessimism, both of which are extremely unusual in ancient Greek philosophy and which raise the interesting question of hedonism's relationship to pessimism and atheism. Finally, the book explores the "new Cyrenaicism" of the nineteenth-century writer and classicist Walter Pater, who drew out the enduring philosophical interest of Cyrenaic hedonism more than any other modern thinker.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5249-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    If we are to believe Xenophon, Socrates did not entirely approve of Aristippus of Cyrene. Xenophon and Aristippus were both among the crowd of young men who passed their leisure time with Socrates. However, Xenophon felt that he and Socrates agreed on the importance of self-control, which was the foundation of responsible management of one’s body, soul, household, relationships, and polis. By contrast, he narrates how Socrates “had noticed that one of his companions [i.e., Aristippus] was rather self-indulgent” with regard to food, drink, sex, sleep, cold, heat, and hard work (Mem. 2.1.1). So Socrates tries to show Aristippus the...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Cyrene and the Cyrenaics: A Historical and Biographical Overview
    (pp. 12-25)

    Now seems the time to introduce the members of the Cyrenaic movement to whom I will frequently allude in the following chapters. The principal figures are Aristippus, their notional founder, who followed Socrates; the mainstream Cyrenaics (Arete, Epitimides, Antipater, Paraebates, the Metrodidact, and probably Aristoteles), who first codified Aristippus’s inspirational example; Hegesias, who accentuated the mainstream Cyrenaics’ egoistic individualism and introduced pessimism; Anniceris, who opposed Hegesias by reasserting the importance of personal and civic relationships; and Theodorus, an eclectic and flamboyant thinker, who is most renowned for his supposed “atheism.” Hegesias, Anniceris, and Theodorus each had their own followers, called...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Knowledge and Pleasure
    (pp. 26-55)

    When the great Academic skeptic Carneades was categorizing all possible organizing principles for ethical systems, he most often chose either Aristippus or the Cyrenaics generally as the figureheads for hedonism.¹ More specifically, he said that the Aristippean and Cyrenaic “end” was “obtaining pleasure.”² “End” (to telos) is a technical term in ancient philosophy. It means the goal of all deliberation and action, the best thing in human life, or both. It is important to recognize that this is Carneades’ way of slotting the Cyrenaics into his scheme, not an exact report of the Cyrenaics’ own presentation of their position. Nevertheless,...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Virtue and Living Pleasantly
    (pp. 56-91)

    In the last chapter I attempted to reconstruct how Aristippus and the later Cyrenaics established a rational foundation for their hedonistic intuitions. I argued that Aristippus began with a family of arguments justifying his choices by their capacity to generate pleasure or ward off pain. This is not to say that Aristippus was simply working out rationalizations for choices he would have made even without philosophy. To the contrary, I suggested that Socrates’ guidance helped him to reflect critically on his beliefs and behavior and begin to organize them. But there is no reliable evidence concerning whether or how Aristippus...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Eudaimonism and Anti-Eudaimonism
    (pp. 92-100)

    In the previous chapter I attempted to show how Aristippus, the mainstream Cyrenaics, and the Annicereans build entire ways of life on the basis of their fundamental commitments regarding pleasure and pain. I also acknowledged that presentism is a consistent element in Cyrenaic ethics, which I interpreted in two ways. First, I suggested that it belongs to a family of spiritual exercises shared by many Hellenistic philosophers. The aim of this exercise for the Cyrenaics is to reduce your anxiety, increase your sensitivity to pleasure, and sharpen your focus on making the best possible use of available resources. It therefore...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Personal and Political Relationships
    (pp. 101-119)

    In the previous two chapters I have argued that Aristippus and the mainstream Cyrenaics, like all other ancient Greek philosophers, care about their lives in their entirety. Their end is a form of happiness oreudaimonia. Moreover, while Anniceris denies that happiness should be designated the end, I have suggested that this denial is disingenuous; his philosophy nevertheless positions happiness as its implicit goal. We will see further evidence for that assertion in this chapter, where Anniceris argues that Hegesias makes two enormous errors. First, Hegesias rejects the dominant forms of interpersonal solicitude in ancient Greek culture. Second, because of...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Hegesias’s Pessimism
    (pp. 120-146)

    InThe Birth of TragedyFriedrich Nietzsche, who was a professor of classical philology and wrote his doctoral dissertation (in Latin) on the sources of Diogenes Laertius, laments the “senile joy in existence and serenity” of Greek culture after Euripides and Socrates.¹ He argues that Socrates’ hypertrophied critical intellect was the paradigm for an attitude which destroyed the archaic Greeks’ capacity for both profound suffering and profound artistic creation. “The Greeks knew and felt the terror and horrors of existence,” Nietzsche writes,² but men like Aeschylus were able to tolerate their sensitivity to the horror of “Dionysian” nature by superposing...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Theodorus’s Innovations
    (pp. 147-167)

    Theodorus “the Godless” introduces at least three significant innovations to the Cyrenaic tradition. All three of these are concisely outlined by Diogenes Laertius:

    He understood the end to be joy and distress. One follows practical wisdom, the other foolishness. Good things are practical wisdom and justice, bad things are the opposite conditions, bodily pleasure and pain are intermediates. (2.98)

    The first and most striking innovation here is Theodorus’s demotion of bodily pleasure and pain from the status of ends to that of “intermediates.” The second is the corresponding promotion of joy and distress to the status of ends. Third is...

  13. CHAPTER 9 The “New Cyrenaicism” of Walter Pater
    (pp. 168-192)

    In the previous eight chapters I laid out my interpretation of the ancient Greek Cyrenaics. Before pulling together my thoughts, however, I want to look briefly at the only (to my knowledge) significant recrudescence of Cyrenaic ethics in subsequent intellectual history.¹ This is the “new Cyrenaicism” of the nineteenth-century critic, novelist, and Oxford academic Walter Pater. Pater’s Cyrenaicism merits investigation for several reasons. First and most importantly, it develops in fascinating detail some elements of Cyrenaic philosophy which are clearly important, but are left tantalizingly vague by the ancient evidence. Among these are the idea of “unitemporal pleasure,” the nature...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Conclusion: The Birth of Hedonism
    (pp. 193-197)

    The primary goal of this monograph has been to argue for a new understanding of ancient Cyrenaic ethics, including the development of the movement from Aristippus through to the mainstream Cyrenaics, Hegesiacs, Annicereans, and Theodoreans. I said in the introduction that such a comprehensive study would need not only to reconstruct the surviving doctrines and arguments, but also to understand the behavioral and cultural contexts within which Cyrenaic theories seemed both cogent and attractive, at least to certain individuals. In fact I have argued that these projects are intricately connected: unless we have some grasp of Cyrenaic ethics as a...

  15. APPENDIX 1: The Sources
    (pp. 198-210)
  16. APPENDIX 2: Annicerean Interpolation in D.L. 2.86—93
    (pp. 211-222)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 223-262)
    (pp. 263-274)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 275-277)