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Greek Philosopher Aristippus

Updated on January 29, 2010

Cyrenaics, one of the so-called Minor Socratic Schools. Founded by Aristippus, the Cyrenaics held that the sovereign good consisted in pleasure, in a way that seems to anticipate the modern hedonists. Aristippus himself practised self-indulgence, and the Cyrenaic teaching was transmitted through his daughter and her son Aristippus the younger to Theodorus and Anniceris (4th century BC).

Aristippus (435 B.C. to 360 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher who founded the Cyrenaic or hedonist school.

Born at Gyrene, Cyrenaica, he went to Syracuse where he taught rhetoric and was an attendant at the court of Dionysius the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse. He later went to Athens and became a student of Socrates.

As a pupil of Socrates, he transformed his philosophy into one in which pleasure became the final aim of life. He therefore lived the life of a philosophic voluptuary, while at the same time retaining restraint over his passions.

Aristippus' school of Cyrenaics believed that all human sensations are reducible to two emotions, pleasure and pain. The highest good is pleasure, and virtue is the ability to enjoy pleasure and to avoid pain. Happiness is simply a continued pleasure, composed of separate (preferably immediate) gratifications.

He passed much of his life at Syracuse at the court of Dionysius, and lived some time at Corinth, in intimacy with the famous courtesan Lais.

His doctrines were taught after his death by his daughter Arete, and later by her son, Aristippus the younger.


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