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Hedonism is a school of thought which argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good.[1] In very simple terms, a hedonist strives to maximize net pleasure (pleasure minus pain).

EtymologyEdit

The name derives from the Greek word for "delight" (ἡδονισμός hēdonismos from ἡδονή hēdonē "pleasure", a cognate of English sweet + suffix -ισμός -ismos "ism").

Egyptian hedonism A 4200 year old poem from Egypt was found to date back to the first intermediary period around 2120 BC ´Follow your desire as long as you shall live. Fulfill your needs upon earth after the command of your heart. Behold, it is not given to man to take his property with him. Behold, there is not one who departs who comes back again

Classic schools of antiquityEdit

Democritus seems to be the earliest philosopher on record to have categorically embraced a hedonistic philosophy; he called the supreme goal of life "contentment" or "cheerfulness", claiming that "joy and sorrow are the distinguishing mark of things beneficial and harmful" (DK 68 B 188).[2]

CārvākaEdit

Main article: Cārvāka

Cārvāka was an Indian hedonist school of thought that arose approximately 600 BC, and died out in the 14th century AD. The Cārvākas maintained that the Hindu scriptures are false, that the priests are liars, and that there is no afterlife, and that pleasure should be the aim of living. Unlike other Indian schools of philosophy, the Cārvākas argued that there is nothing wrong with sensual indulgence. They held a naturalistic worldview.

The Cyrenaic school Edit

Main article: Cyrenaics
File:Aristippus.jpg

The Cyrenaics were an ultra-hedonist Greek school of philosophy founded in the 4th century BC, supposedly by Aristippus of Cyrene, although many of the principles of the school are believed to have been formalized by his grandson of the same name, Aristippus the Younger. The school was so called after Cyrene, the birthplace of Aristippus. It was one of the earliest Socratic schools. The Cyrenaics taught that the only intrinsic good is pleasure, which meant not just the absence of pain, but positively enjoyable sensations. Of these, momentary pleasures, especially physical ones, are stronger than those of anticipation or memory. They did, however, recognize the value of social obligation, and that pleasure could be gained from altruism(Citation needed) . The school died out within a century, and was replaced by the more sophisticated philosophy of Epicureanism.

Epicureanism Edit

Main article: Epicureanism

Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of Epicurus (c. 341–c. 270 BC), founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, following in the steps of Democritus and Leucippus. His materialism led him to a general stance against superstition or the idea of divine intervention. Following Aristippus—about whom very little is known—Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear (ataraxia) as well as absence of bodily pain (aponia) through knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of our desires. The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism, insofar as it declares pleasure as the sole intrinsic good, its conception of absence of pain as the greatest pleasure and its advocacy of a simple life make it different from "hedonism" as it is commonly understood.

File:Epicurus bust2.jpg
In the Epicurean view, the highest pleasure (tranquility and freedom from fear) was obtained by knowledge, friendship and living a virtuous and temperate life. He lauded the enjoyment of simple pleasures, by which he meant abstaining from bodily desires, such as sex and appetites, verging on asceticism. He argued that when eating, one should not eat too richly, for it could lead to dissatisfaction later, such as the grim realization that one could not afford such delicacies in the future. Likewise, sex could lead to increased lust and dissatisfaction with the sexual partner. Epicurus did not articulate a broad system of social ethics that has survived.

Epicureanism was originally a challenge to Platonism, though later it became the main opponent of Stoicism. Epicurus and his followers shunned politics. After the death of Epicurus, his school was headed by Hermarchus; later many Epicurean societies flourished in the Late Hellenistic era and during the Roman era (such as those in Antiochia, Alexandria, Rhodes and Ercolano). The poet Lucretius is its most known Roman proponent. By the end of the Roman Empire, having undergone Christian attack and repression, Epicureanism had all but died out, and would be resurrected in the 17th century by the atomist Pierre Gassendi, who adapted it to the Christian doctrine.

Some writings by Epicurus have survived. Some scholars consider the epic poem On the Nature of Things by Lucretius to present in one unified work the core arguments and theories of Epicureanism. Many of the papyrus scrolls unearthed at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum are Epicurean texts. At least some are thought to have belonged to the Epicurean Philodemus.

Christian Edit

Main article: Christian hedonism

Christian hedonism is a controversial Christian doctrine current in some evangelical circles, particularly those of the Reformed tradition. The term was coined by Reformed Baptist pastor John Piper in his 1986 book Desiring God. Piper summarizes this philosophy of the Christian life as "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him."[3] Christian Hedonism may anachronistically describe the theology of Jonathan Edwards. In the 17th century the atomist Pierre Gassendi, adapted Epicureanism to the Christian doctrine.

UtilitarianismEdit

Main article: Utilitarianism

MohismEdit

Main article: Mohism

Mohism was a philosophical school of thought founded by Mozi in the 5th century BC. It paralleled the utilitarianism later developed by English thinkers. As Confucianism became the preferred philosophy of later Chinese dynasties, Mohism and other non-Confucian philosophical schools of thought were suppressed.(Citation needed)

Modern utilitarianismEdit

The 18th and 19th-century British philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill defended the ethical theory of utilitarianism, according to which we should perform whichever action maximizes the aggregate good. Conjoining hedonism, as a view as to what is good for people, to utilitarianism has the result that all action should be directed toward achieving the greatest total amount of happiness (Hedonic Calculus). Though consistent in their pursuit of happiness, Bentham and Mill’s versions of hedonism differ. There are two somewhat basic schools of thought on hedonism:[1]

  • One school, grouped around Jeremy Bentham, defends a quantitative approach. Bentham believed that the value of a pleasure could be quantitatively understood. Essentially, he believed the value of pleasure to be its intensity multiplied by its duration - so it was not just the number of pleasures, but their intensity and how long they lasted that must be taken into account.
  • Other proponents, like John Stuart Mill, argue a qualitative approach. Mill believed that there can be different levels of pleasure - higher quality pleasure is better than lower quality pleasure. Mill also argues that simpler beings (he often refers to pigs) have an easier access to the simpler pleasures; since they do not see other aspects of life, they can simply indulge in their lower pleasures. The more elaborate beings tend to spend more thought on other matters and hence lessen the time for simple pleasure. It is therefore more difficult for them to indulge in such "simple pleasures" in the same manner.

Critics of the quantitative approach assert that, generally, "pleasures" do not necessarily share common traits besides the fact that they can be seen as "pleasurable."(Citation needed) Critics of the qualitative approach argue that whether one pleasure is higher than another depends on factors other than how pleasurable it is.(Citation needed)

EgoismEdit

Hedonism can be conjoined with psychological egoism - the theory that humans are motivated only by their self interest - to make psychological hedonism: a purely descriptive claim which states that agents naturally seek pleasure. Hedonism can also be combined with ethical egoism - the claim that individuals should seek their own good - to make ethical hedonism the claim that we should act so as to produce our own pleasure.

However, hedonism is not necessarily related to egoism. The utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill is sometimes classified as a type of hedonism, as it judges the morality of actions by their consequent contributions to the greater good and happiness of all. This is altruistic hedonism. Whereas some hedonistic doctrines propose doing whatever makes an individual happiest (over the long run), Mill promotes actions which make everyone happy. Compare individualism and collectivism.

It is true that Epicurus recommends for us to pursue our own pleasure, but he never suggests we should live a selfish life which impedes others from achieving that same objective.

Some of Sigmund Freud's theories of human motivation have been called psychological hedonism(Citation needed); his "life instinct" is essentially the observation that people will pursue pleasure. However, he introduces extra complexities with various other mechanisms, such as the "death instinct". The death instinct, Thanatos, can be equated to the desire for silence and peace, for calm and darkness, which causes them another form of happiness. It is also a death instinct, thus it can also be the desire for death. Psychoanalysis has developed greatly since Freud but his ideas remain influential and contentious.

Contemporary approaches Edit

A modern proponent of hedonism with an ethical touch is the Swedish philosopher Torbjörn Tännsjö.[4]

Michel Onfray Edit

Main article: Michel Onfray

A dedicated contemporary hedonist philosopher and on the history of hedonistic thought is the French Michel Onfray. He defines hedonism "as an introspective attitude to life based on taking pleasure yourself and pleasuring others, without harming yourself or anyone else."[5] "Onfray's philosophical project is to define an ethical hedonism, a joyous utilitarianism, and a generalized aesthetic of sensual materialism that explores how to use the brain's and the body's capacities to their fullest extent -- while restoring philosophy to a useful role in art, politics, and everyday life and decisions."[6]

Onfray's works "have explored the philosophical resonances and components of (and challenges to) science, painting, gastronomy, sex and sensuality, bioethics, wine, and writing. His most ambitious project is his projected six-volume Counter-history of Philosophy,"[6] of which three have been published. For him "In opposition to the ascetic ideal advocated by the dominant school of thought, hedonism suggests identifying the highest good with your own pleasure and that of others; the one must never be indulged at the expense of sacrificing the other. Obtaining this balance – my pleasure at the same time as the pleasure of others – presumes that we approach the subject from different angles – political, ethical, aesthetic, erotic, bioethical, pedagogical, historiographical…."

For this he has "written books on each of these facets of the same world view."[7] His philosophy aims "for "micro-revolutions, " or revolutions of the individual and small groups of like-minded people who live by his hedonistic, libertarian values."[8]

Abolitionism Edit

Main article: Abolitionism (bioethics)

The Abolitionist Society is a transhumanist group calling for the abolition of suffering in all sentient life through the use of advanced biotechnology. Their core philosophy is negative utilitarianism.

CriticismEdit

Hedonism has been criticized by a number of modern authors and philosophers.

G.E. Moore argued that hedonists commit the naturalistic fallacy.

Ayn Rand, widely read as a modern proponent of ethical egoism,[9] rejected ethical hedonism:

To take "whatever makes one happy" as a guide to action means: to be guided by nothing but one's emotional whims. Emotions are not tools of cognition. . . . This is the fallacy inherent in hedonism – in any variant of ethical hedonism, personal or social, individual or collective. "Happiness" can properly be the purpose of ethics, but not the standard. The task of ethics is to define man's proper code of values and thus to give him the means of achieving happiness. To declare, as the ethical hedonists do, that "the proper value is whatever gives you pleasure" is to declare that "the proper value is whatever you happen to value" – which is an act of intellectual and philosophical abdication, an act which merely proclaims the futility of ethics and invites all men to play it deuces wild.[10]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

Notes
  1. 1.0 1.1 Hedonism, 2004-04-20 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. p. 125, C.C.W. Taylor, "Democritus", in C. Rowe & M. Schofield (eds.), Greek and Roman Political Thought, Cambridge 2005.
  3. http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TopicIndex/85_Christian_Hedonism/1538_Christian_Hedonism/
  4. Torbjörn Tännsjö; Hedonistic Utilitarianism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (1998).
  5. http://newhumanist.org.uk/1421 "Atheism à la mode"
  6. 6.0 6.1 Introductory Note to Onfray by Doug Ireland
  7. Michel Onfray: A philosopher of the Enlightenment
  8. France, Media, Michel Onfray, A self labeled Anarchist
  9. Rand, Ayn (1964). The Virtue of Selfishness. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-451-16393-1. OCLC 28103453.
  10. Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, "The Objectivist Ethics".
Sources

12px Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Hedonism". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External linksEdit

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