Aristippus of Cyrene (5th century BC)

Inspiration for the Cyrenaic school of philosophy

We know little about the life of the man Aristippus. But his teaching on the subject of happiness has inspired many philisophers over time. Aristippus’ advocated a life of pure sensual pleasure. Indeed, he claimed that immediate pleasure is the ultimate goal of all our actions.

His theories were taken up by his grandson and taught at the Cyrenaic school (named after their native city of Cyrene). Cyrenaics claimed that our individual and personal thoughts about what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future usually result in us experiencing uncertainty and anxiety. We regret former actions and dwell on them, rather than remembering the finer things in life. We worry about the future and what might happen to us.

The Cyrenaics suggest that only immediate sensations can ever really be known and that indulgence in the pleasure of the moment is the supreme good toward which we should aim our lives. It’s basically hedonism. They argued that all creatures naturally attempt to pursue pleasure and to avoid pain. Don’t think about the past; don’t think about the future. Don’t even think about pleasures that you might enjoy in the future. Just enjoy the here and now.

Aristippus himself seemed to enjoy being a non-conformist. Indeed, he would break the social conventions of the day simply in order to enjoy immediate sensual pleasures – sometimes shocking and undignified.

This idea was taken up and developed by the Greek philosopher Epicurus.


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