The History of Hedonism Explained

Hedonism, the philosophy that pleasure is the ultimate goal in life, has a long history dating back to ancient Greece. The earliest form of hedonism was Cyrenaic hedonism, named after the ancient Greek city of Cyrene. The founder of this school of thought was Aristippus of Cyrene, who lived in the 4th century BCE. Aristippus is credited as the first person to explicitly formulate the idea that pleasure is the ultimate goal in life. In his teachings, he emphasized the importance of physical pleasure, and argued that pleasure is the only thing that is inherently good, and that all other things are only instrumentally good, that is, good only because they lead to pleasure. He is quoted as saying “Pleasure is the first good innate in us, and from it all the rest derive”

Another important figure in the history of hedonism is Epicurus, who lived in the 3rd century BCE. Epicureanism is a philosophy that emphasizes the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain as the means to achieving a happy and tranquil life. Epicurus believed that pleasure is the ultimate goal in life, but argued that it should be pursued in a rational and moderate way, and that the avoidance of pain is equally important as the pursuit of pleasure. He is quoted as saying: “Pleasure is the beginning and the goal of a happy life”

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Hedonism was revisited and developed by philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Bentham, the founder of Utilitarianism, famously wrote: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure… they govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think”. Bentham’s hedonism is often referred to as “quantitative hedonism” as it argues that the amount of pleasure or happiness is what counts, and that the morality of an action is determined by the amount of pleasure or happiness that it produces.

John Stuart Mill, on the other hand, developed the idea of “qualitative hedonism” which holds that it is not the quantity of pleasure that is important, but the quality of pleasure. He wrote in his book “Utilitarianism”: “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”

In the 20th century, philosophers such as A.J. Ayer and R.B. Brandt developed the idea of “preference hedonism”, which holds that pleasure and happiness consist in the satisfaction of one’s preferences or desires. Ayer is quoted as saying “Pleasure is the feeling that attends the satisfaction of a desire”

In conclusion, Hedonism as a philosophy holds that pleasure is the ultimate goal in life, this idea has been developed and reformed throughout history by philosophers such as Aristippus, Epicurus, Bentham, Mill, Ayer, and Brandt. Each of them has formulated different types of hedonism, but the core idea that pleasure is the ultimate goal in life, remains the same. It’s worth noting that Hedonism is often criticized for encouraging irresponsible and selfish behavior, as well as being unrealistic in terms of the human condition, and for not taking into account the long-term consequences of actions.

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