Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 28: Hedonism
Johannes Hirata Hedonism, from the Greek word hedone or ‘pleasure’, refers to any theory stipulating that the experience of pleasure is the primary feature of a good life. In a wider sense, the term ‘hedonism’ is also used to refer to theories of behaviour (psychological hedonism) or to ethical theories (ethical hedonism) that give a central role to the experience of pleasure. Hedonism as a school of thought is typically linked with Epicureanism, the Greek school named after its founder Epicurus (341–270 bc), who proclaimed pleasure and pain as the yardsticks for good and bad. However, in contrast to what Epicureanism means in today’s colloquial use, for Epicurus ‘pleasure’ was essentially the absence of pain and fear rather than mindless physical delight; and the successful pursuit of pleasure required reflection and self-control rather than the impulsive execution of one’s drives. Nevertheless, even the hedonism of Epicureanism stands out in its radical subsumption of all possible goods under one ultimate good. An even earlier and more radical concept of hedonism can be ascribed to the Cyrenaic school headed by Aristippus (435–356 bc). The Cyrenaics explicitly believed that pleasure cannot vary in quality but only in intensity, and they embraced a material concept of pleasure as bodily pleasure and as the presence of pleasure rather than as the absence of pain (Drakopoulos 1991, p. 11). Aristippus also appears to have attempted to find a way to measure pleasure (ibid., p. 12), though little is known about his success in the...
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