experience = knowledge ≠ truth

All we can ever truly know is what we experience. Even observations become things that are done to us, but what about truth?

Truth largely escapes us because we cannot know and understand every potential factor of what was behind the experience. My cat cannot possibly have a full understanding of what motivates me to clip his claws, just that I tend to do it every week or so and I give him treats immediately after, so he puts up with it. To him, he may be putting together that this is to keep him tidy (he seems smart enough to figure out doorknobs open doors, and will tap them to command me to clear this obstruction from his ability to do his duties as a cat and explore and check shit out), or he may just think it’s some bizarre ritual I’ve concocted because I’m weird; my abilities to communicate this desire to keep him tidy directly to him are limited to what he can understand of my verbal and physical language (and cats are far more visual in their language abilities than verbal, this is 100% true, no matter how much your cat vocalises at you, he is vocalising more for your sake than his own), so I have a duty to keep the motion as smooth as possible — for his pleasure as well as my own — even though the truth of the situation may, indeed, be forever elusive to him.

We get hints of truths, but the whole truth of any situation tends, indeed, to forever evade us. Truth isn’t what one makes of it, necessarily, but it’s a folly to assume that one’s knowledge, especially if coming from admittedly limited sources, is ever sufficient to cast irrevocable judgement. There is always room for more experiences and more knowledge; to shut off oneself from potentially gaining further knowledge, no matter how seemingly small the area, is to betray one’s moral failing with regards to the topic of Truth. Hedonists, especially, have a moral obligation to keep the door open on Truths, be they of the physical or spiritual worlds.

Refusing knowledge serves only to create rough motions, pain, in one’s life. It serves Strife in the worst possible ways — not the side of the Goddess that challenges us, but the Eris Who furthers our hardships and suffering. Only accepting knowledge can break the cycle and truly serve Hedone and, ultimately, Eros.


“I am being purpled by this blanket.”

We may appear to be in agreement that the blanket appears purple, but what even is that? What in the world does that even mean? Is it the colour we think it is? If you’re ill, you may see it more as red than purple, and only agree with me because you believe you saw the same blanket before, and you cannot possibly know that I’m telling you the truth, but it makes sense to you to agree with me in the situation, for whatever your reasons may be. The reality is, you know you saw a purple blanket once before, and you know you see a reddish blanket now that bears an otherwise striking resemblance to the purple one, but even if it can be otherwise proved to you that it’s the same as the purple blanket you saw a week ago, from where you currently sit, this is merely a similar, but red, blanket — your immediate knowledge has changed the facts of this blanket, and they may change in the future, so the truth of the blanket will ultimately be elusive since now you know that one’s knowledge can change one’s perceptions of the truth.

To further complicate matters, I could point out that neither one of us could even really be seeing a blanket, this could very well be an illusion.

But the conundrum of the colour is still in need of address:

Even if we’re both healthy, we cannot be certain that we both see the same colour 100%, double-triple-quadruple checked certain that my purple is your purple is Frankie’s purple is The One True Ultimate Purple of This Blanket, so what is there to do? And if one sees a different colour, one may or may not be sick, one may just be colourblind. “Objective reality” does not exist in any meaningful way to mortals, because the tools used to observe this, our own senses, are themselves variables, and consensus on those observations from a group cannot be trusted because there is too much room for variance in intent of what we mean by what we say when we say “purple”, because the more people added to the committee, the more likely a variable in consensus will be hidden.

Do we thus offer complete honesty and risk the rough motion of an argument? This is not an issue for Hedonists, as the Hedonist will accept that there are potentially infinite variables that may alter one’s own or another’s perceptions. Outside of that scope, it’s harder to say.

Experiences are inevitable, and knowledge is an obligation a life lived for its pleasures, but truth, even at its best, is elusive.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Hedonist priorities

I’m sure there are going to be people who think this is evidence of some majorly borked-up priorities, but I’d rather go with less or without in some area or another, for myself, than to make my cat, my friends / A2/Ypsi Gothic Gatherings, my work DJing at WCBN, or my gods, go with less or without, from me.

By bettering the beings and situations around me in any way I have even a modicum of control over, I’m actively working to increase beauty, joy, and pleasure in my own life. Hedonism, by its nature, is pluralist in that the only one in a person’s life who can define and measure where pleasure derives and which smooth motions (pleasures) can outweigh any rough motions (pains), is entirely up to that person. Granted, the extant fragments on the Cyrenaic school placed “earthly” pleasures of the senses over the more ascetic pleasures of the Epicuran school (let’s put aside the ancient notion that Epicurus practically plagiarised portions of his teachings from the Cyrenaic Theorodus “the Atheist”), if only because experience is placed as the source of all knowledge; while ascetic pleasures certainly can be a knowledge of experience, it is one of those great ineffables that is practically impossible to teach, and by some arguments may be best found after a period of earthly indulgences.

There have been times where I’ve had less than I currently do (if you can imagine that), and there was a time when I basically had a millionaire’s trust-fund at my disposal. Sure, I’d be lying if I said I prefer poverty (after all, I’m not some hipster who thinks it’s a trait that makes people more interesting), but if i think about what I enjoy, what I really find most pleasurable in both experiences, it’s never been the times where I’ve had more for myself if those I hold dear can’t enjoy in it, as well. It’s always been the times when I can do what I can with what I have to share the gifts of Hedone with others; maybe it means I can buy a round for literally everyone at the bar, or maybe it means I have to pack a sandwich or tightly ration my dry goods another week so that I can pick up a new card game to play with my friends or make sure the Khairetes can have that statue I’ve had my eye on.

And if the Gods help those who help themselves, then by seeking the pleasures that matter most to me, surely They will find a way to make sure that I have what I need when I need it most.

Hedonism is only about selfishness and greed if that’s what a person is bringing to it. Such people tend to see little growth, regardless of what schools of thought they find easiest to latch onto. But when one brings to it a desire to fulfill the pursuit of sensual pleasures through shared experiences, then it’s hard to describe that as inherently selfish.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Aristippus’ Paradox

Aristippus proposed in the Cyrenaic school of Hedonism that we have through our physical and mental senses limitless potential for knowledge, and as Hedonists, we must seek knowledge through empirical means (use our senses) but remain sceptical of the knowledge we have gained, because while the potential is limitless, our understanding of all elements that contributed to that experience are limited.

Because our empiric faculties make our sense of having gained knowledge incorrigible, we may feel unmistaken of what we experienced, but at the same time, we can never truly understand all elements of that experience. We may sense by tasting it a bitter taste and discover through our other senses that we had tasted coffee, but can we know that it is the coffee itself that is bitter? We may discover that there are elements in coffee that create a bitter taste to our neural receptors in our brains, but that still begs the question: Was it the coffee itself that was bitter, or only our experiences of tasting it that made it seem that way? Our only faculties to knowledge can only tell us so much about what we just experienced.

This is something I’ve been meaning to explain about the paradoxical nature of the Cyrenaic understanding of Knowledge for some time, but recent events on the pagan blogosphere really gave me the incentive to elaborate on it. What happens when our senses conflict?

Our senses conflict quite often, possibly moreso than we may initially believe. If you’re taking Vicodin for pain management, when you shit, it feels like you’re passing shards of glass (take it from someone who knows), but the feeling of finally passing it is a welcome relief. You’re getting two sensory messages: Pain and Relief from passing a Vicodin turd. We also know that passing it is more pleasurable than holding it in for fear of that shards-of-glass-in-an-uncomfortable-spot-that’s-not-the-back-of-a-Volkswagon sensation, so we pass it because the positive outweighs the negative in a measurable way.

But what about more complex experiences? Here’s a hypothetical situation, inspired by recent conversations, that might illuminate things:

Frankie is a Pop Wiccan and works for his local Pagan Pride Day. Heather is a polytheist with a local Roman group. Frankie invites Heather to present a Roman ritual at the Pagan Pride Day. Heather sends Frankie the proposed ritual script, so that he could make sure he had the proper permits for wine in the park pavilion and make a proper allotment for time. Frankie sends Heather a notice that she should change the script of the ritual so that it could more-closely resemble a Wiccan ritual “so as not to confuse people attending”. Heather takes it to her blog, and explains how she experienced discrimination from Frankie. Frankie insists that there was no discrimination. Charlie, a reader of Heather’s blog and who barely knows either of them, feels conflicted, as he’s reading all of this information: Was Heather discriminated against, or not?

Though we must remain sceptical this does not mean we must be dismissive. We must question, and in the event that logic may be effectively utilised, we must make use of our sense of it, should we feel the need to arrive to a conclusion that cannot be adequately assessed through other senses.

Logically, one cannot prove a negative existence –in a negative state, there is a lack of evidence. To say “the gods do not exist” is a statement of negative existence and should not be taken as empirical fact, but natural logic follows that it is simply another’s statement of their own lack of experience of the existence of the gods.

When Frankie says that there was no discrimination against Heather, he is asserting a negative existence in favour of Heather’s experience of a positive existence of experiencing discrimination. Frankie therefore admits that he lacks empirical evidence of non-discrimination, so logically Heather is most likely to be able to give an account of this discrimination.

Now, true, the presence or absence of discrimination also depends on the agreed-upon definition of “discrimination”, and most dictionaries define it as “unfair treatment”. Was it fair of Frankie to ask Heather to change her group’s ritual to look more like a Wiccan one? Was it even-handed or unbiased to request that the Roman ritual change to look more Wiccan if the Wiccan ritual did not have to change to appear more Roman? Is it the responsibility of Frankie, as a Pagan Pride organiser, to allow each group he includes in the festivities to accurately represent their religions, or is it his responsibility to make sure the Wiccans in attendance can easily recognise every ritual as one similar to their own?

Cyrenaic sceptics ask these questions and arrive at answers that best fit one’s sense of logic, in the absence of any other more-empirical senses.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[PBP2013] Hedonism

The Lion of Cyrene in Libya

The Lion of Cyrene in Libya

The Hedonist loves fine things, from food to clothes, to entertainment to perfumes. Because of one’s love for these things, one has little regard for cost, in either direction. The lover of money, rather than pleasures, will brag of how much or how little something cost them, boasting either their assumed wealth or assumed savvy. Fine food and entertainment speaks for itself.

Hedonism is clearly at odds with Capitalism. Capitalism is an institutionalised love of money, placing a person’s inherent value by how much money one has. The Hedonist, educated in life’s pleasures, measures one’s worth by one’s diversity of pleasures.

The Hedonist is able to find pleasure in a diversity of surroundings, from the grandest of palaces to the lowliest of hovels. An appreciation of fine things within one’s means includes any means by which one is living, which is always subject to change. Always.

Hedonist reality is subject to knowledge. Knowledge is limited to personal experience. Personal experience is never wrong, but what we know of the external influences on those experiences can be. Experiences are also practically impossible to fully share with others (at last with current technology) because one is limited in one’s ability to share it with language —and even that which appears “white” to oneself may appear “cream” or “platinum” to one’s neighbour. Even an experience shared by two people is not going to be completely the same; not even two women scissoring are going to have the same orgasm, even if they each experience their orgasms together.

In spite of this empiricism and scepticism, Hedonists are not atheist, unless they’re Theodorans, and even that was debated amongst the ancients outside that sect of the Cyrenaic school. If one experiences the theoi, then one does –true, one cannot be certain of what brought that experience (after all, medical and psychological studies, at best, can only really show so much, and even then, they only really can explain what happens to the body when these experiences happen, not necessarily what makes these experiences happen, or why they happen), but it is what it is, and one should take pleasures in celebrating that experience. If one has not experienced the gods, then one has not; but if pleasures are to be derived from worship of Them, regardless of experiences, then indulge, for pleasure is its own justification. Indeed, the argument that present pleasure can be derived from Their worship, even for one who has yet to experience Them, can be a great one.

Cyrenaic Hedomism recognises Pleasure (the Hedones) as the ultimate good, and Pain (the Aglae) as the ultimate evil; pain is not the denial of pleasure, denial is merely an inert state. Aristippus likened pains to a violent storm over the sea, and pleasures to a gentle breeze, whereas lacking both, there is a calm. There is no “black-grey-white”, there are pleasing actions, painful actions, and absence. If pain were one colour on the wheel, and pleasure the colour opposite that, absence of either would be absence of any colour. All pleasures are equal, all pain is equal; your classical morality is “endorsed” by the Cyrenaic only as far as its ability to endorse pleasure and discourage pain, if it endorses more denial than pleasure, it is of no use.

While bodily pleasures are certainly equal to mental and spiritual pleasures in Cyrenaic thought, in spite of the insistent that Cyrenaics value bodily pleasures more highly, there is not a shred of evidence in the collective of surviving Cyrenaic teachings; indeed, the elder Aristippus himself seems to have sought mental delights just as easily, if not more-so, and it’s fair to conclude that “bodily pleasures” only have value from the mental pleasures that they can give. Without the ability to take in delights as a thinking person, the odours of fine perfumes, the feel of velvets and satins, the sound of a Brian Eno suite, the appearance of a stunning Erté litho, and the tastes of fine chocolates are rendered inert.

Denial is Epicuran delight. Despite this, some ancient believed that Epicusus practically plagiarised portions of Theodoros, student of the younger Aristippus, son of Arete, daughter of Aristippus of Cyrene. Through this allegation, there is a link between Marxism and Cyrenaic Hedonism (Karl Marx being influenced directly by Epicurus) and between Existentialism and Hedonism (Jean-Paul Sartre and Somine de Beauvoir being directly influenced by Marxist philosophy).

The dichotomy of Pleasure and Pain in Hedonism, mythologically, strike a similar chord with Empedoclean pluralism. To Empedocles, the universe was driven by the forces of Love (phila) and Strife (neikos), or rather, attraction and repulsion —respectively domains of Eros and Eris, and as per Apeulius, the former being the father of the Hedones, Pleasures, and the latter per Hesiod as the mother of Algea, the Pains.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[PBP2013] A: Aristotle on Aristippus of Cyrene

“Or again as Aristippus said in reply to Plato when he spoke somewhat too dogmatically, as Aristippus thought: ‘Well, anyhow, our friend’, meaning Socrates, ‘never spoke like that’.”

—Aristotle, Rhetoric

When speaking of things as they happened, there is always a minimum of three versions: Your side, Their side, and What Really Happened. The reason so many so-called “Socratic” schools existed is because he never wrote anything down; we only have the words of his disciples, who often differed on at least some matters, to tell us what he taught. The fact that Plato, who in later works was clearly inserting his own philosophies into the mouth of a Socrates that was no longer based on his departed teacher, but a Socrates of his own invention, missed several points in clear on a number of counts: Where Plato largely ignores Socrates’ ascetic life, the Cynics —especially Diogenes of Sinope— used it to set themselves apart from the other Socratic schools. Where Plato ignores the respect for the common citizen that Socrates clearly maintained, Epicurus —a later Hedonist, though largely a student of the pre-Socratic Democritus, not Socrates’ own student, Aristippus—made use of it, and even became a primary influence on Marxism. Where Plato and Xenophon gave no clear practical application for the respect that Socrates clearly had for women —indeed, all of Socrates’ teachers were women— the Cynics and Hedonists, in practise, gave women equal ground, even if that legacy is largely ignored in academia.

There can only be so many divergent thoughts on what a man taught before one really should sit down and realise that everybody, including the man’s students are missing something; and honestly, the more I learn of Socrates, whose life is primarily written about by Plato, the more I realise how much Plato missed, and how much only the Hedonists and Cynics really understood of that wisdom.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.