For many of the ancient Greek philosophers, the ethical life was understood to be closely tied up with important notions like rational integrity, self-control, self-sufficiency, and so on. Because of this, feeling or passion (pathos), and in particular, pleasure, was viewed with suspicion. There was a general insistence on drawing up a sharp contrast between a life of virtue on the one hand and one of pleasure on the other. While virtue was regarded as rational and as integral to advancing (...) one’s well-being or happiness and safeguarding one’s autonomy, pleasure was viewed as largely irrational and as something that usually undermines a life of reason, self-control and self-sufficiency. I want to try to show that the hedonist Aristippus of Cyrene, a student and contemporary of Socrates, was unique in not drawing up such a sharp contrast. Aristippus, I argue, might be seen to be challenging the conception of passion and pleasure connected to loss of self-control and hubristic behavior. Not only do I try to show that pleasure according to Aristippus is much more comprehensive or inclusive than it is usually taken to be, but that a certain kind of control and self-possession actually play an important part in his conception of pleasure and in his hedonism as a whole. (shrink)
In Book II of Xenophon’s Memorabilia the hedonist Aristippus speaks very briefly, though quite emphatically, about a kind of freedom with regards to desires, pleasures and happiness. Much of the later testimony on him suggests a similar concern. My interest here in this paper is in understanding the nature of this freedom. For both dialectical and expositional purposes, I begin with a brief examination of some of the relevant views put forth in Plato’s Gorgias and of the larger socio-philosophical contexts (...) within which they are embedded. (shrink)
Julia Annas, in The Morality of Happiness, claims that the more traditional interpretation of Epicurus–i.e., one which sees him along more straightforward hedonistic or monistic lines and therefore as recommending justice and the other moral virtues as instrumental means to one’s pleasure–is mistaken. She argues that Epicurus regards virtue as a part of happiness, that he takes seriously the independent value of the moral virtues, and so agrees, or is in alignment, with the likes of Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics. (...) However, Annas’ treatment of Epicurus’ ethics is controversial and open to several crucial objections. My objective in this paper is to try to cash out these objections. It is my belief that the traditional interpretation of Epicurus’ ethics is indeed the correct one. (shrink)
It is noticeably clear from several ancient sources that the hedonist Aristippus of Cyrene (a friend and student of Socrates) asks us to concentrate on enjoying the pleasures of the present or near future. What is not so obvious is his reason for such a recommendation. Although any explanation for this is bound to be somewhat speculative due to the inadequacy of the sources, I would like to offer a possible rationale for, and subsequent reconstruction of, his view, one which (...) might be seen to take its departure primarily from the hedonistic theory set forth in Plato’s Protagoras. In effect, I want to argue that Aristippus’ present moment focus can be explained as part of a rational overall strategy to guarantee maximum pleasure over one’s life as a whole. I begin this paper however, by briefly running through one of the more popular explanations advanced in recent years for Aristippus’ present moment focus and neglect of the future. This account, I try to argue, is not only unconvincing but largely incompatible with the bulk of the evidence. (shrink)
In Book II of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, in a discussion with Socrates, the hedonist Aristippus speaks very briefly, though quite emphatically, about a kind of freedom 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. Though I hope this elucidation offers some interesting insights of its own, my purpose for including it is mostly dialectical and expositional. That 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. (shrink)
In Plato’s Symposium, the priestess Diotima, whom Socrates introduces as an expert in love, describes how the lover who would advance rightly in erotics would ascend from loving a particular beautiful body and individual to loving Beauty itself. This hierarchy is conventionally referred to as Plato’s scala amoris or ‘ladder of love’, for the reason that the uppermost form of love cannot be reached without having initially stepped on the first rung of the ladder, which is the physical attraction to (...) a beautiful body or individual. A popular interpretation of Plato’s or Diotima’s description of this ascent is that the lover is supposed to give up or abandon all the previous objects or individuals as he moves upward. In other words, previous individuals are merely the first rung of the ladder; and when the lover has climbed to higher stages of the ladder, he should kick the earlier rung, and them, away. I would like to try to argue that this popular interpretation is mistaken; that Plato does not believe that each previous stage in the ascent is left behind as the lover moves to a higher stage. Far from it, in fact; not only do I not believe that Plato wants the lover to abandon the individuals he loves, but I suggest that what his ascent does is move the lover to love previous individuals in a richer, fuller and more appropriate sense. I approach this in two parts, the second of which I hope can be seen to exemplify the first. In part one I concern myself with a close analysis of the relevant bits of text, while in part two, I move on to examine Plato’s love of Socrates. Here I hope to try to show that Plato, while going on – having presumably ascended up past the lower rungs of the ladder – to produce great works of virtue and beauty, never left the individual Socrates behind. (shrink)
Hedonism can take many forms. In this paper I sketch a particular version of hedonism which has its roots in some of the ancient Greek theories, like in the perceived theory put forth in Plato’s dialogue the Protagoras and in Epicurus, and which motivates, and extends to some, 18th and 19th century hedonists, like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. I then try to raise some questions and test certain claims when it seems pertinent to do so, and try to (...) suggest, or bring some awareness of, possible reformulations or amendments. Although most of what I will have to say has been said before in some form or another, at times, I try, however brief, to offer a few novel speculations of my own. (shrink)
Callicles, Socrates’ main interlocutor in Plato’s Gorgias, has traditionally been interpreted as a kind of sybaritic hedonist, as someone who takes the ultimate goal in life to consist in the pursuit of physical pleasures and, further, as someone who refuses to accept the value of any restraint at all on a person’s desire. Such an interpretation turns Callicles into a straw man and Plato, I argue, did not create Callicles only to have him knocked down in this easy way. Plato’s (...) construction of Callicles’ position is much more formidable and not reducible to any simple classification. In the first part of this paper, I challenge the traditional interpretation of Callicles. In the second, I speculate as to why Plato has attributed this much more formidable position to Callicles, one which Socrates is never really made to get at the heart of. (shrink)
First published in 1954, and most recently reprinted in 2010, the self-stated aim of James’ book is to establish improved race relations in the world by revealing an underlying truth concerning the contribution of the African continent to the rest of the world. It is an attempt to show that the true authors of Greek philosophy were not the Greeks, but the Egyptians. This theft of the African philosophical legacy by the Greeks has led to the mistaken opinion that the (...) African continent has made no intellectual contribution to civilization – a misrepresentation that has become the root of racial prejudice. By bringing this information to the attention of the world, James hopes to remedy these prejudices which have corrupted human relations. (shrink)
Although there is no mention of him in his published works, there is little doubt that some of Nietzsche’s most famous doctrines were inspired by the views expressed by the character Callicles in Plato’s Gorgias. Though many have been keen to notice the resemblance between their moral, societal and political views, little, if any, attention has been given to the kinship between their views on happiness and its various components or relations. What I would like to try to do in (...) this paper is to draw out these similarities. In so doing, I hope to also show where it is they might be seen to diverge in important and interesting ways. (shrink)
An important idea in antiquity was that to engage in philosophy meant more than the theoretical inquiry into fundamental questions, it was also conceived of as a way of life modelled on the philosophical life of Socrates. In a recent article, John Cooper defends the thesis that, for Socrates and his all successors, the philosophical life meant to live according to reason, understood as the exercising of one’s capacity for argument and analysis in pursuit of the truth – which he (...) conceives of as wisdom. It is our contention that an inclusion and close reading of Xenophon’s testimony casts doubt on Cooper’s unified model of Socrates and his conception of philosophy as a way of life. Xenophon’s Socrates, we argue, conceived of the philosophical life as essentially the exercise of one’s capacity for self-mastery. Moreover, as we interpret Xenophon, it is this self-mastery, not wisdom, which seems to form the basis or core of Socratic ethics. We try to show that for several of Socrates’ philosophical successors living a philosophical life meant something much closer to Xenophon’s picture of that life than the one Cooper describes. (shrink)
The traditional characterization we have handed down to us of Aristippus of Cyrene is of someone who lacks or simply repudiates any notion of self-control and, hence, of someone susceptible to unrestrained excess and self-enslavement. I hope to show here that such a characterization deserves significant reassessment.
What is Plato's view of pleasure in his dialogue the Phaedo? He clearly (and famously) rails against bodily pleasures, seeing them as shackles of sorts which prevent the soul from attaining its proper perfection apart from the body, but does he leave room in the carnate life for some other forms of pleasure? These are some of the questions I would like to try to address in this paper. As it turns out, I argue that Plato does indeed recognize other (...) types of pleasure, of the sort which figure as important items of value in the good life. (shrink)
Callicles holds a desire-fulfilment conception of happiness; it is something like, that is, the continual satisfaction of desires that constitutes happiness for him. He claims that leading the happy life consists in having many desires, letting them grow as strong as possible and then being able to satisfy them (e.g. 491e, 494c). For Callicles, this life of maximum pursuit of desires consists in a kind of absolute freedom, where there is very little practice of restraint; happiness consists of luxury, unrestraint, (...) and freedom (492b-c). Socrates develops his objections to Callicles’ life of freedom by appealing to two myths once told to him by a wise man. I draw out what I think are the two primary objections and consider to what extent they might be seen to damage Callicles’ position. I conclude that Callicles’ view on freedom can adequately meet one of Socrates’ objections but not the other. (shrink)
Adrian Kuzminski’s book is a work of comparative philosophy. It examines Pyrrhonism in terms of its connection and similarity to some Eastern non-dogmatic soteriological traditions, in particular, to Madhyamaka Buddhism. An important part of the author’s objective is to examine the historical evidence supporting Pyrrhonism’s origins in Indian Buddhism and to gain a more nuanced understanding of both these philosophical and religious traditions.