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Hedonism is a school of ethics which argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good.[1]

Contents

Etymology

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

Basic concepts

The basic idea behind hedonistic thought is that pleasure is the only thing that is good for a person. This is often used as a justification for evaluating actions in terms of how much pleasure and how little pain (i.e. suffering) they produce. In very simple terms, a hedonist strives to maximize this net pleasure (pleasure minus pain).

Classic schools of antiquity

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]

Cārvāka

Cārvāka was an Indian hedonist school of thought that arose approximately about 600 BCE, and died out in the 14th century CE. 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

Aristippus of Cyrene

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. The school died out within a century, and was replaced by the more sophisticated philosophy of Epicureanism.

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. His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and 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.

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

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.

Utilitarianism

Mohism

Mohism was a philosophical school of thought founded by Mozi in the 5th century BCE. It parallelled the utilitarianism later developed by the Anglo-Saxon thinkers. As Confucianism became the preferred philosophy of later Chinese dynasties, Mohism and other non-Confucian philosophical schools of thought were supressed.

Anglo-Saxon utilitarianism

The nineteenth-century British philosophers John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham 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." Critics of the qualitative approach argue that whether one pleasure is higher than another depends on factors other than how pleasurable it is. For example, some people may see the pleasure of satanism as a more base pleasure because it is morally unpalatable to them, and not because it is lacking in pleasure.

In the medical sciences, the inability to derive pleasure from experiences that are typically considered pleasurable is referred to as anhedonia.

Egoism

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 getting to that same objective.

Some of Sigmund Freud's theories of human motivation have been called psychological hedonism; 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

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

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,"[7] 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."[8]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."[9]

Abolitionism

One modern group that is hedonistic is the Abolitionist Society. They are also a part of the transhumanistic movement. They propose that all suffering should be abolished, and the prospects for happiness be increased, through biotechnology at a major scale.

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ a b 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. ^ Introductory Note to Onfray by Doug Ireland
  7. ^ Introductory Note to Onfray by Doug Ireland
  8. ^ Michel Onfray: A philosopher of the Enlightenment
  9. ^ [http://www.ainfos.ca/06/dec/ainfos00234.html (en) France, Media, Michel Onfray, A self labeled Anarchist

External links


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
Hedonism
See also Hedonism on Wikipedia, and our 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica disclaimer.

HEDONISM (Gr. ἡδονή, pleasure, from ἡδύς, sweet, pleasant), in ethics, a general term for all theories of conduct in which the criterion is pleasure of one kind or another. Hedonistic theories of conduct have been held from the earliest times, though they have been by no means of the same character. Moreover, hedonism has, especially by its critics, been very much misrepresented owing mainly to two simple misconceptions. In the first place hedonism may confine itself to the view that, as a matter of observed fact, all men do in practice make pleasure the criterion of action, or it may go further and assert that men ought to seek pleasure as the sole human good. The former statement takes no view as to whether or not there is any absolute good: it merely denies that men aim at anything more than pleasure. The latter statement admits an ideal, summum bonum—namely, pleasure.

The second confusion is the tacit assumption that the pleasure of the hedonist is necessarily or characteristically of a purely physical kind; this assumption is in the case of some hedonistic theories a pure perversion of the facts. Practically all hedonists have argued that what are known as the "lower" pleasures are not only ephemeral in themselves but also productive of so great an amount of consequent pain that the wise man cannot regard them as truly pleasurable; the sane hedonist will, therefore, seek those so-called "higher" pleasures which are at once more lasting and less likely to be discounted by consequent pain. It should be observed, however, that this choice of pleasures by a hedonist is conditioned not by "moral" (absolute) but by prudential (relative) considerations.

The earliest and the most extreme type of hedonism is that of the Cyrenaic School as stated by Aristippus, who argued that the only good for man is the sentient pleasure of the moment. Since (following Protagoras) knowledge is solely of momentary sensations, it is useless to try, as Socrates recommended, to make calculations as to future pleasures, and to balance present enjoyment with disagreeable consequences. The true art of life is to crowd as much enjoyment as possible into every moment. This extreme or "pure" hedonism regarded as a definite philosophic theory practically died with the Cyrenaics, though the same spirit has frequently found expression in ancient and modern, especially poetical, literature.

The confusion already alluded to between "pure" and "rational" hedonism is nowhere more clearly exemplified than in the misconceptions which have arisen as to the doctrine of the Epicureans. To identify Epicureanism with Cyrenaicism is a complete misunderstanding. It is true that pleasure is the summum bonum of Epicurus, but his conception of that pleasure is profoundly modified by the Socratic doctrine of prudence and the eudaemonism of Aristotle. The true hedonist will aim at a life of enduring rational happiness; pleasure is the end of life, but true pleasure can be obtained only under the guidance of reason. Self-control in the choice of pleasures with a view to reducing pain to a minimum is indispensable. "Of all this, the beginning, and the greatest good, is prudence." The negative side of Epicurean hedonism was developed to such an extent by some members of the school (see Hegesias) that the ideal life is held to be rather indifference to pain than positive enjoyment. This pessimistic attitude is far removed from the positive hedonism of Aristippus.

Between the hedonism of the ancients and that of modern philosophers there lies a great gulf. Practically speaking ancient hedonism advocated the happiness of the individual: the modern hedonism of Hume, Bentham and Mill is based on a wider conception of life. The only real happiness is the happiness of the community, or at least of the majority: the criterion is society, not the individual. Thus we pass from Egoistic to Universalistic hedonism, Utilitarianism, Social Ethics, more especially in relation to the still broader theories of evolution. These theories are confronted by the problem of reconciling and adjusting the claims of the individual with those of society.

One of the most important contributions to the discussion is that of Sir Leslie Stephen (Science of Ethics), who elaborated a theory of the "social organism" in relation to the individual. The end of the evolution process is the production of a "social tissue" which will be "vitally efficient." Instead, therefore, of the criterion of "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," Stephen has that of the "health of the organism." Life is not "a series of detached acts, in each of which a man can calculate the sum of happiness or misery attainable by different courses." Each action must be regarded as directly bearing upon the structure of society.

A criticism of the various hedonistic theories will be found in the article Ethics (ad fin.). See also, beside works quoted under Cyrenaics, Epicurus, &c., and the general histories of philosophy, J. S. Mackenzie, Manual of Ethics (3rd ed., 1897); J. H. Muirhead, Elements of Ethics (1892); J. Watson, Hedonistic Theories (1895), J. Martineau, Types of Ethical Theory (2nd ed., 1886); F. H. Bradley, Ethical Studies (1876); H. Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics (6th ed., 1901); Jas. Seth, Ethical Principles (3rd ed., 1898); other works quoted under Ethics.


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HEDONISM (Gr. 7)80vij, pleasure, from 7)81us, sweet, pleasant), in ethics, a general term for all theories of conduct in which the criterion is pleasure of one kind or another. Hedonistic theories of conduct have been held from the earliest times, though they have been by no means of the same character. Moreover, hedonism has, especially by its critics, been very much misrepresented owing mainly to two simple misconceptions. In the first place hedonism may confine itself to the view that, as a matter of observed fact, all men do in practice make pleasure the criterion of action, or it may go further and assert that men ought to seek pleasure as the sole human good. The former statement takes no view as to whether or not there is any absolute good: it merely denies that men aim at anything more than pleasure. The latter statement admits an ideal, sumsnum bonum - namely, pleasure. The second confusion is the tacit assumption that the pleasure of the hedonist is necessarily or characteristically of a purely physical kind; this assumption is in the case of some hedonistic theories a pure perversion of the facts. Practically all hedonists have argued that what are known as the "lower" pleasures are not only ephemeral in themselves but also productive of so great an amount of consequent pain that the wise man cannot regard them as truly pleasurable; the sane hedonist will, therefore, seek those so-called "higher" pleasures which are at once more lasting and less likely to be discounted by consequent pain. It should be observed, however, that this choice of pleasures by a hedonist is conditioned not by "moral" (absolute) but by prudential (relative) considerations.

The earliest and the most extreme type of hedonism is that of the Cyrenaic School as stated by Aristippus, who argued that the only good for man is the sentient pleasure of the moment. Since (following Protagoras) knowledge is solely of momentary sensations, it is useless to try, as Socrates recommended, to make calculations as to future pleasures, and to balance present enjoyment with disagreeable consequences. The true art of life is to crowd as much enjoyment as possible into every moment. This extreme or "pure" hedonism regarded as a definite philosophic theory practically died with the Cyrenaics, though the same spirit has frequently found expression in ancient and modern, especially poetical, literature.

The confusion already alluded to between "pure" and "rational" hedonism is nowhere more clearly exemplified than in the misconceptions which have arisen as to the doctrine of the Epicureans. To identify Epicureanism with Cyrenaicism is a complete misunderstanding. It is true that pleasure is the summum bonum of Epicurus, but his conception of that pleasure is profoundly modified by the Socratic doctrine of prudence and the eudaemonism of Aristotle. The true hedonist will aim at a life of enduring rational happiness; pleasure is the end of life, but true pleasure can be obtained only under the guidance of reason. Self-control in the choice of pleasures with a view to reducing pain to a minimum is indispensable. "Of all this, the beginning, and the greatest good, is prudence." The negative side of Epicurean hedonism was developed to such an extent by some members of the school (see Hegesias) that the ideal life is held to be rather indifference to pain than positive enjoyment. This pessimistic attitude is far removed from the positive hedonism of Aristippus.

Between the hedonism of the ancients and that of modern philosophers there lies a great gulf. Practically speaking ancient hedonism advocated the happiness of the individual: the modern hedonism of Hume, Bentham and Mill is based on a wider conception of life. The only real happiness is the happiness of the community, or at least of the majority: the criterion is society, not the individual. Thus we pass from Egoistic to Universalistic hedonism, Utilitarianism, Social Ethics, more especially in relation to the still broader theories of evolution. These theories are confronted by the problem of reconciling and adjusting the claims of the individual with those of society. One of the most important contributions to the discussion is that of Sir Leslie Stephen (Science of Ethics), who elaborated a theory of the "social organism" in relation to the individual. The end of the evolution process is the production of a "social tissue" which will be "vitally efficient." Instead, therefore, of the criterion of "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," Stephen has that of the "health of the organism." Life is not "a series of detached acts, in each of which a man can calculate the sum of happiness or misery attainable by different courses." Each action must be regarded as directly bearing upon the structure of society.

A criticism of the various hedonistic theories will be found in the article Ethics (ad fin.). See also, beside works quoted under Cyrenaics, Epicurus, &c., and the general histories of philosophy, J. S. Mackenzie, Manual of Ethics (3rd ed., 1897); J. H. Muirhead, Elements of Ethics (1892); J. Watson, Hedonistic Theories (1895), J. Martineau, Types of Ethical Theory (2nd ed., 1886); F. H. Bradley, Ethical Studies (1876); H. Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics (6th ed., 1901); Jas. Seth, Ethical Principles (3rd ed., 1898); other works quoted under Ethics.


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Simple English

Hedonism is a type of philosophy. Hedonism can be generally summed up as a belief that "pleasure is the highest good" or that "whatever causes pleasure is right."

In Hedonism, people think that what makes them happy is good. Things that avoid pain are also good. Hedonism is focused around pleasure. There are different beliefs in hedonism. Some people believe it is important to get as many pleasurable experiences as possible, others believe that the quality of the pleasure matters. They think there are higher and lower pleasures. Some well known Hedonists were John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham.

Many people also believe Hedonism is related to sex. This is not true. Sex can be a very pleasurable experience, but when philosophers talk about Hedonism, they think more about the pleasure of reading a good book, listening to classical music, or discussing with other philosophers.

Two types of Hedonism are Cyrenaicism and Epicureanism. Cyrenaicism is where people make themselves happy in the fastest amount of time. Epicureanism is where people like to be happy but they do so slowly so that they cause less pain to themselves. They also look more into the future and go for the higher pleasures in life.








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