[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.