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Aristippus and Freedom - Kristian Urstad

Aristippus and Freedom - Kristian Urstad - Praxis Vol 1 No...

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41 Praxis, Vol. 1, No. 2, Autumn 2008 ISSN 1756-1019 ARISTIPPUS AND FREEDOM IN XENOPHON’S MEMORABILIA KRISTIAN URSTAD BRITISH COLUMBIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY Abstract In Book II of Xenophon’s Memorabilia , in a discussion with Socrates, the hedonist Aristippus speaks very briefl y, though quite emphatically, about a kind of freedom (έ λευθερ ί α ) with regards to desires, pleasures and happiness. Much of the later testimony on him suggests a similar concern. My interest in this paper is in understanding the nature of this freedom. In order to do so however I begin with a brief elucidation into some of Socrates’ and Callicles’ proclamations in Plato’s Gorgias about their own conceptions of freedom and the larger socio-philosophical contexts within which they are embedded. Th ough I hope this elucidation off ers some interesting insights of its own, my purpose for including it is mostly dialectical and expositional. Th at is, I want to use it in order to bring out certain key features with I think, later, will, through comparison and contrast, provide for a clearer and hopefully more substantial understanding of Aristippus’ particular notion of freedom. In sum, I argue that Aristippus is promoting a unique kind of internal state or condition of the soul, one which apparently allows its possessor to engage in all sorts of pleasures without being worsted by them in any way. Part of Aristippus’ motivation here, I argue, is to challenge the popular conception of freedom connected to restraint and abstinence, and the accompanying idea that short-term or momentary pursuit of pleasure necessarily undermines the control of life by reason. “Not being able to govern events, I govern myself, and apply myself to them, if they will not apply themselves to me.” (Michel de Montaigne, Essays ) 1 In Plato’s Gorgias , Callicles advocates a life of the maximum pursuit of desires, one which consists in a kind of absolute freedom , where there is very little practice of restraint; happiness, as he says, is comprised of luxury ( τρυφ uni1F74 ), un restraintuni1F00 (uni1F00 κ ó λαστος ) and
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42 KRISTIAN URSTAD freedom (έ λευθερ ί α ) (492b-c). Moreover, Callicles takes this freedom to be closely connected to control or rule over others (491d). As such, it is entirely representative of the popular Greek concept of freedom; the tyrant is typical of this, that is, as most eleutheros , for “ eleutheria is manifested in ruling over others and in not submitting to the rule of others oneself.” (Adkins, 1972, p. 68) 1 In fact, freedom construed in this way is one of the central themes of the Gorgias dialogue. Not too far from the start, for example, when he is asked by Socrates what great good his craft is responsible for, Gorgias replies, “The thing that is in actual fact the greatest good, Socrates. It is the source of freedom for humankind itself and at the same time it is for each person the source of rule over others in one’s own city.” (452d, italics added)
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