Cyrenaics

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Aristippus of Cyrene Aristippus.jpg
Aristippus of Cyrene

The Cyrenaics or Kyrenaics (Ancient Greek : Κυρηναϊκοί; Kyrēnaïkoí) were a sensual hedonist Greek school of philosophy founded in the 4th century BCE, supposedly by Aristippus of Cyrene, although many of the principles of the school are believed to have been formalized by his grandson of the same name, Aristippus the Younger. The school was so called after Cyrene, the birthplace of Aristippus. It was one of the earliest Socratic schools. The Cyrenaics taught that the only intrinsic good is pleasure, which meant not just the absence of pain (as it did for Epicurus), but positively enjoyable sensations. Of these, momentary pleasures, especially physical ones, are stronger than those of anticipation or memory. They did, however, recognize the value of social obligation and that pleasure could be gained from altruistic behaviour. The school died out within a century and was replaced by the philosophy of Epicureanism.

Common Era or Current Era (CE) is one of the notation systems for the world's most widely used calendar era. BCE is the era before CE. BCE and CE are alternatives to the Dionysian BC and AD system respectively. The Dionysian era distinguishes eras using AD and BC. Since the two notation systems are numerically equivalent, "2019 CE" corresponds to "AD 2019" and "400 BCE" corresponds to "400 BC". Both notations refer to the Gregorian calendar. The year-numbering system utilized by the Gregorian calendar is used throughout the world today, and is an international standard for civil calendars.

Aristippus the Younger, of Cyrene, was the grandson of Aristippus of Cyrene, and is widely believed to have formalized the principles of Cyrenaic philosophy.

Cyrene, Libya ancient Greek and Roman city near present-day Shahhat, Libya

Cyrene was an ancient Greek and later Roman city near present-day Shahhat, Libya. It was the oldest and most important of the five Greek cities in the region. It gave eastern Libya the classical name Cyrenaica that it has retained to modern times. Located nearby is the ancient Necropolis of Cyrene.

Contents

History of the school

The history of the Cyrenaic school begins with Aristippus of Cyrene, who was born around 435 BCE. He came to Athens as a young man and became a pupil of Socrates. We have only limited knowledge of his movements after the execution of Socrates in 399 BCE, although he is said to have lived for a time in the court of Dionysius of Syracuse.

Athens Capital and largest city of Greece

Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning over 3,400 years and its earliest human presence starting somewhere between the 11th and 7th millennium BC.

Socrates classical Greek Athenian philosopher

Socrates was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher, of the Western ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, he made no writings, and is known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers writing after his lifetime, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon. Other sources include the contemporaneous Antisthenes, Aristippus, and Aeschines of Sphettos. Aristophanes, a playwright, is the only source to have written during his lifetime.

Trial of Socrates

The trial of Socrates was held to determine the philosopher’s guilt of two charges: asebeia (impiety) against the pantheon of Athens, and corruption of the youth of the city-state; the accusers cited two impious acts by Socrates: “failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges” and “introducing new deities”.

It is uncertain precisely which doctrines ascribed to the Cyrenaic school were formulated by Aristippus. [1] Diogenes Laërtius, based on the authority of Sotion and Panaetius, provided a long list of books said to have been written by Aristippus. However, Diogenes also wrote that Sosicrates had stated that Aristippus had written nothing. [2] Among Aristippus' pupils was his daughter, Arete of Cyrene, who passed on his teachings to her own son Aristippus the Younger. It was he, according to Aristocles, [3] who turned the teachings of his grandfather into a comprehensive system. [4] At the least, however, it can be said that the foundations of Cyrenaic philosophy were ideas originated by the elder Aristippus. [5]

Diogenes Laërtius late antique biographer of classical Greek philosophers

Diogenes Laërtius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is definitively known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is a principal source for the history of ancient Greek philosophy. His reputation is controversial among scholars because he often repeats information from his sources without critically evaluating it. He also frequently focuses on trivial or insignificant details of his subjects' lives while ignoring important details of their philosophical teachings and he sometimes fails to distinguish between earlier and later teachings of specific philosophical schools. However, unlike many other ancient secondary sources, Diogenes Laërtius generally reports philosophical teachings without attempting to reinterpret or expand on them, which means his accounts are often closer to the primary sources. Due to the loss of so many of the primary sources on which Diogenes relied, his work has become the foremost surviving source on the history of Greek philosophy.

Sotion of Alexandria was a Greek doxographer and biographer, and an important source for Diogenes Laërtius. None of his works survive; they are known only indirectly. His principal work, the Διαδοχή or Διαδοχαί, was one of the first history books to have organized philosophers into schools of successive influence: e.g., the so-called Ionian School of Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes. It is quoted very frequently by Diogenes Laërtius, and Athenaeus. Sotion's Successions likely consisted of 23 books, and at least partly drew on the doxography of Theophrastus. The Successions was influential enough to be abridged by Heraclides Lembus in the mid-2nd century BC, and works by the same title were subsequently written by Sosicrates of Rhodes and Antisthenes of Rhodes.

Panaetius ancient Greek philosopher

Panaetius of Rhodes was a Stoic philosopher. He was a pupil of Diogenes of Babylon and Antipater of Tarsus in Athens, before moving to Rome where he did much to introduce Stoic doctrines to the city. After the death of Scipio in 129 BC, he returned to the Stoic school in Athens, and was its last undisputed scholarch. With Panaetius, Stoicism became much more eclectic. His most famous work was his On Duties, the principal source used by Cicero in his own work of the same name.

After the time of the younger Aristippus, the school broke up into different factions, represented by Anniceris, Hegesias, and Theodorus, who all developed rival interpretations of Cyrenaic doctrines, many of which were responses to the new system of hedonistic philosophy laid down by Epicurus. [6] By the middle of the 3rd century BC, the Cyrenaic school was obsolete; Epicureanism had successfully beaten its Cyrenaic rivals by offering a system which was more sophisticated. [7]

Anniceris was a Cyrenaic philosopher. He argued that pleasure is achieved through individual acts of gratification which are sought for the pleasure that they produce, but he also laid great emphasis on the love of family, country, friendship and gratitude, which provide pleasure even when they demand sacrifice.

Hegesias of Cyrene ancient greek philosopher

Hegesias of Cyrene was a Cyrenaic philosopher, the Cyrenaics forming one of the earliest Socratic schools of philosophy. He argued that happiness is impossible to achieve, and that the goal of life was the avoidance of pain and sorrow. Conventional values such as wealth, poverty, freedom, and slavery are all indifferent and produce no more pleasure than pain. Cicero claims that Hegesias wrote a book called Death by Starvation, which persuaded so many people that death is more desirable than life that Hegesias was banned from teaching in Alexandria. It has been thought by some that Hegesias was influenced by Buddhist teachings.

Theodorus the Atheist, of Cyrene, was a philosopher of the Cyrenaic school. He lived in both Greece and Alexandria, before ending his days in his native city of Cyrene. As a Cyrenaic philosopher, he taught that the goal of life was to obtain joy and avoid grief, and that the former resulted from knowledge, and the latter from ignorance. But his principal claim to fame was his alleged atheism. He was usually designated by ancient writers ho atheos, "the atheist."

Philosophy

The Cyrenaics were hedonists and held that pleasure was the supreme good in life, especially physical pleasure, which they thought more intense and more desirable than mental pleasures. [8] Pleasure is the only good in life and pain is the only evil. Socrates had held that virtue was the only human good, but he had also accepted a limited role for its utilitarian side, allowing pleasure to be a secondary goal of moral action. [5] [9] Aristippus and his followers seized upon this, and made pleasure the sole final goal of life, denying that virtue had any intrinsic value.

Virtue Positive trait or quality deemed to be morally good

Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness. In other words, it is a behavior that shows high moral standards. Doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong. The opposite of virtue is vice.

Epistemology

The Cyrenaics were known for their skeptical theory of knowledge. They reduced logic to a basic doctrine concerning the criterion of truth. [10] They thought that we can know with certainty our immediate sense-experiences (for instance, that I am having a sweet sensation now) but can know nothing about the nature of the objects that cause these sensations (for instance, that the honey is sweet). [5] They also denied that we can have knowledge of what the experiences of other people are like. [11]

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

Empirical evidence knowledge acquired by means of the senses

Empirical evidence is the information received by means of the senses, particularly by observation and documentation of patterns and behavior through experimentation. The term comes from the Greek word for experience, ἐμπειρία (empeiría).

All knowledge is of one's own immediate sensation. These sensations are motions which are purely subjective, and are painful, indifferent or pleasant, according as they are violent, tranquil or gentle. [5] [12] Further they are entirely individual, and can in no way be described as being of the world objectively. Feeling, therefore, is the only possible criterion of knowledge and of conduct. [5] Our ways of being affected are alone knowable. Thus the sole aim for everyone should be pleasure.

Ethics

Cyrenaicism deduces a single, universal aim for all people which is pleasure. Furthermore, all feeling is momentary and homogeneous. It follows that past and future pleasure have no real existence for us, and that among present pleasures there is no distinction of kind. [12] Socrates had spoken of the higher pleasures of the intellect; the Cyrenaics denied the validity of this distinction and said that bodily pleasures, being more simple and more intense, were preferable. [8] Momentary pleasure, preferably of a physical kind, is the only good for humans.

However some actions which give immediate pleasure can create more than their equivalent of pain. The wise person should be in control of pleasures rather than be enslaved to them, otherwise pain will result, and this requires judgement to evaluate the different pleasures of life. [13] Regard should be paid to law and custom, because even though these things have no intrinsic value on their own, violating them will lead to unpleasant penalties being imposed by others. [8] Likewise, friendship and justice are useful because of the pleasure they provide. [8] Thus the Cyrenaics believed in the hedonistic value of social obligation and altruistic behavior. Like many of the leading modern utilitarians, they combined with their psychological distrust of popular judgments of right and wrong, and their firm conviction that all such distinctions are based solely on law and convention, the equally unwavering principle that the wise person who would pursue pleasure logically must abstain from that which is usually thought wrong or unjust. This idea, which occupies a prominent position in systems like those of Jeremy Bentham, [12] Volney, and even William Paley, was clearly of prime importance to the Cyrenaics.

Later Cyrenaics

The later Cyrenaics, Anniceris, Hegesias, and Theodorus, all developed variations on the standard Cyrenaic doctrine. For Anniceris, pleasure is achieved through individual acts of gratification which are sought for the pleasure that they produce, [14] but Anniceris laid great emphasis on the love of family, country, friendship and gratitude, which provide pleasure even when they demand sacrifice. [15] Hegesias believed that happiness is impossible to achieve, [14] and hence the goal of life becomes the avoidance of pain and sorrow. [13] Conventional values such as wealth, poverty, freedom, and slavery are all indifferent and produce no more pleasure than pain. [16] For Hegesias, Cyrenaic hedonism was simply the least irrational strategy for dealing with the pains of life. [14] For Theodorus, the goal of life is mental pleasure not bodily pleasure, [17] and he placed greater emphasis on the need for moderation and justice. [18] He was also famous for being an atheist. [17] To some extent these philosophers were all trying to meet the challenge laid down by Epicureanism, [16] and the success of Epicurus was in developing a system of philosophy which would prove to be more comprehensive and sophisticated than its rivals'. [7]

The philosophy of the Cyrenaics around the time of Hegesias of Cyrene evolved in a way that has similarities with Skepticism, Epicurianism and also Buddhism. [19] In fact, there are striking similarities with the tenets of Buddhism, [19] in particular the Four Noble Truths and the concept of Dukkha or "suffering". Coincidentally, the rulers of Cyrene around the time Hegesias flourished, the Ptolemaic king of Egypt Ptolemy II Philadelphus and from 276 BC the independent king Magas of Cyrene, are both claimed to have been recipients of Buddhist missionaries from the Indian king Ashoka according to the latter's Edicts. [19] [20] [21] It is therefore sometimes thought that Hegesias may have been directly influenced by Buddhist teachings through contacts with the alleged missionaries sent to his rulers in the 3rd century BC. [lower-alpha 1] [24]

See also

Notes

  1. "The philosopher Hegesias of Cyrene (nicknamed Peisithanatos, "The Death-Persuader") was contemporary of Magas and was probably influenced by the teachings of the Buddhist missionaries to Cyrene and Alexandria. His influence was such that he was ultimately prohited to teach" —Jean-Marie Lafont . Les Dossiers d'Archéologie (254): 78, INALCO [22] . Jean-Marie Guyau also paralleled his teachings to Buddhism. [23]

Citations

  1. Annas 1995 , p. 229
  2. Diogenes Laërtius, ii. 84f
  3. Aristocles ap. Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica , xiv. 18
  4. Reale & Catan 1986 , p. 272
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Copleston 2003 , p. 121
  6. Long 2005 , p. 633
  7. 1 2 Long 2005 , p. 639
  8. 1 2 3 4 Annas 1995 , p. 231
  9. Reale & Catan 1986 , p. 271
  10. Reale & Catan 1986 , p. 274
  11. Reale & Catan 1986 , pp. 274–5
  12. 1 2 3 Annas 1995 , p. 230
  13. 1 2 Copleston 2003 , p. 122
  14. 1 2 3 Annas 1995 , p. 233
  15. Copleston 2003 , p. 123
  16. 1 2 Annas 1995 , p. 232
  17. 1 2 Annas 1995 , p. 235
  18. Long 2005 , p. 637
  19. 1 2 3 Berenice II and the Golden Age of Ptolemaic Egypt, Dee L. Clayman, Oxford University Press, 2014, p.33
  20. Ashoka: The Search for India's Lost Emperor, Charles Allen, Hachette UK, 2012, p.117
  21. Berenice II Euergetis: Essays in Early Hellenistic Queenship, Branko van Oppen de Ruiter, Springer, 2016, p.22
  22. Lafont, INALCO.
  23. Éric Volant, Culture et mort volontaire, quoted in
  24. Historical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Philosophy, Anthony Preus, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, p.184

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References

Further reading