THE CYRENAICS AND THE EPICUREANS

THE CYRENAICS AND THE EPICUREANS - THE CYRENAICS AND THE...

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THE CYRENAICS AND THE EPICUREANS Socrates' student Aristippus (c. 435-356 B.C.) was a product of the wealth and luxury of the upper classes of the half-Asian city of Cyrene on the African coast. Handsome, refined, honest, straightforward, and articulate, he took great delight in scandalizing the respectable sinners of Athens. He declared that whatever we do is in pursuit of pleasure or from fear of pain. Pleasure is the greatest good, and everything else must be judged by how well it can bring us pleasure. Wisdom lies not in the search for abstract truth, but the quest for pleasant sensations. The keenest pleasures are physical or sensual rather than intellectual or moral, so the wise person will seek physical delights above all else. Since only the present exists, "the art of life lies in plucking pleasures as they pass, and making the most of what the moment gives."(Durant, p. 504) This came to be called the "Cyrenaic" school, and it is the most explicitly hedonistic philosophy found in the Greek tradition. All opinion was dismissed as illusory; only physical sensations were viewed as sure guides to action. (Here Aristippus and Sextus Empiricus are not so far apart.) Philosopy's greatest value is helping us find and use what is pleasant. The goal is not to master pleasures by asceticism, but to enjoy them without becoming enslaved by them, and to learn to tell the difference between those that endanger us and those that don't. Thus wisdom includes a circumspect respect for law and public opinion, and in being "neither the master nor the slave of any man." Wealth and luxury were viewed as capable of producing pleasure, but not as pleasant in and of themselves. It might be better to be poor and free than wealthy and choked with cares. Aristippus declared that his greatest gift to his daughter Arete was that he had taught her "to set a value on nothing that she can do without." She followed him as head of the Cyrenaic school and became known as "The Light of Hellas." Fourteen years after Aristippus died, Epicurus (c.342-270 B.C.) was born on the small, sun- drenched, hilly island of Samos, cooled by breezes and surrounded by the deep blue sea. He studied at the Academy in Athens, and borrowed from many philosophers who had preceded him. He credited much of his thought to Democritus and to Aristippus, whose philosophy of pleasure was actually more "Epicurean" in the Roman sense than Epicurus' ever was. He lectured
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THE CYRENAICS AND THE EPICUREANS - THE CYRENAICS AND THE...

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