Philosophy 1000-023. Redwood Campus.
Essay Topic # 3
Hedonists, cynics, and stoics all had competing theories of happiness. This paper will present the key differences and occasional similarities of these theories. All of these theories are intriguing, and have unique qualities about what makes a person happy, and what does not.
Hedonists believe that pleasure equals good and pain equals evil. A great example of this theory would be: drinking alcohol is fun and that equals pleasure, but drinking too much alcohol can lead to a hangover and that equals evil. There are two different types of hedonism, one that would agree with that example, and one that would not.
The first type of hedonism is Cyrenaic Hedonism. Cyrenaic Hedonism is a philosophy that advocates the unreflective pursuit of intense, immediate pleasure. This makes no quality distinctions among pleasures. This means that Cyrenaic hedonists are encouraged to do whatever they want, and as often as they want, because pleasure equals good. They would disagree with that example of drink too much alcohol equals pain.
Cyrenaic Hedonism was developed by a philosopher named Aristippus. Aristippus lived in the town of Cyrene on the coast of North Africa, now known as Libya. He named this type of hedonism after his hometown of Cyrene. (Soccio, p. 183). Aristippus was a follower of Socrates and wanted to explore the world to see what other places could teach him. He began teaching others what he had learned about the places he had visited, and his teachings started demanding high prices. Other followers of Socrates began to think that Aristippus was becoming a sophist, and felt that this was a betrayal of Socrates teachings, because they felt that sophists were corrupt. This prompted Aristippus to open up his own school of philosophy in Cyrene.
In this school, Aristippus taught that pleasure is the principle motive for living and that pleasure is always good; regardless of its source (Soccio, p. 183). He felt that physical pleasures were much better than philosophical pleasures, and encouraged his students to follow this philosophy. The main emphasis in the school was that the quantity of pleasures were best, not the quality.
The second type of Hedonism is Epicureanism. This type of Hedonism also agreed that pleasure equals good, but the followers practiced the quality of the pleasure, not the quantity. Epicureanism followers chose the finer things in life, rather than choosing the most of anything. Now, the word Epicurean is associated with the fine things in life.
Epicureanism was established by the philosopher Epicurus. Epicurus was born in the Asian Minor city of Samos, but was an Athenian citizen because his moved to Samos as an Athenian colonist (Soccio, p. 184). When Epicurus was, he moved to Athens to join the military. It was in this service that he realized that he wasn’t a supporter of politics and sent out to find his passion. After serving two years in the military, Epicurus stayed in Athens and studied the works of Plato and Aristotle. He realized that these works did not suit his needs. He rejected them, and he claims that he is self-taught.
Epicurus opened his school of philosophy called The Garden where he claimed that he could save others from unhappiness. The motto that hung over the door of The Garden said, “Guest, thou shalt be happy here, for here happiness is esteemed the highest good” (Soccio, p. 184). The Garden was different from other schools at the time because it let anyone who wanted to learn in. Epicurus made no discrimination against race, regardless of sex, or occupation.
Epicurus said, “Neither life nor death is good or bad in itself; only the qualities of our pleasures or pains is important (Soccio, P. 185).” Epicurus argued with Aristippus and his teachings by informing his students that not every pleasure is desirable. Epicureans would agree with the example of drinking in moderation, so they wouldn’t deal with the negative consequences the next day. They would also eat fruit, instead of other unhealthy foods that were around at that time. This would explain why Epicureanism was the most prominent throughout history. Cyrenaic Hedonism couldn’t last as long, because the followers would eventually die out due to disease.
Cynics had a completely different theory concerning happiness. While they did agree with Hedonism, to an extent, they felt those theories were a little too weak. Cynicism is the philosophy based on the belief that the very essence of civilization is corrupt, and that civilization destroys individuals by making them soft and subject to the whims of fortune. This theory was developed by a philosopher named Antisthenes, and his most famous follower Diogenes, also known as the Dog.
Antisthenes was also a follower of Socrates, and took great interest in Socrates’ character, not his philosophy. Socrates believed that a person’s inner self was more important than their outer appearance. Socrates didn’t care about superficial things like fine clothing and beauty; he often wore old clothes, and rarely bathed. After Socrates’ death, Antisthenes started his school named The Cynosarges, which means the silver dog. As cynics believed that civilization was corrupt, they rejected the norms and live without material possessions.
Diogenes was nicknamed “the dog,” because he lived just like a dog. He lived in an abandoned wine barrel on the beach and once said, “When I saw a child drinking from his hand, I threw away my cup (Soccio; p. 187).” Cynics believed that the more possessions one had, it made that person more vulnerable and unhappy. For example If a person owns a car, and that car breaks down on them, they would have to come up with the money to fix it, or have to take public transportation to carry on their daily activities. If that individual never owned that car, they wouldn’t be unhappy because it could never break down on them (as discussed in class).
Cynicism was once a great practice of true happiness; however, now it is referred as hostile and arrogant. Cynics eventually despised everyone, and ended up hating all of the society around them. They even rejected any kind of emotional attachment, such as friends, because they felt that would cause them unhappiness as well.
Stoics felt that both of these theories were wrong. They believed that true happiness came from the inside, and an individual did not need to go to extremes to achieve this happiness. A stoic believed that Logos, or fate, was in control of life events. The only thing that an individual can control is their reactions and emotions to that event. If a person can deal with those events in a positive manner, they would be happy.
There are two men who were the most influential in stoicism: A Roman slave named Epictetus and a Roman Emperor named Marcus Aurelius. Because Epictetus was a slave, he knew there was very little that could control. Epictetus was once tortured for the mistake of another slave. During this torture, his leg was permanently broken, and he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. He said something very significant about this experience, “I was never more free than when I was on the rack (Soccio, p. 191).”
Epictetus eventually became a free man and became a teacher of Stoicism, which he taught until he was an old man. He followed in Socrates’ footsteps and never published any of his teachings. All of his works were translated by his students, and made into handbooks. Roman soldiers later carried copies of these handbooks with them in battle, and it is quite fearsome to have an army who believed that if they were going to die, it was fate. The soldiers had no fear, nor restraint (as discussed in class).
While on a military campaign, Marcus wrote in a journal which was addressed, “To Myself” This journal is one of the most widely read examples of both stoic thought and personal reflection in Western literature (Soccio, p. 192). These men show that background has nothing to do with happiness. These men were raised in completely opposite worlds, and both found the same way of life.
There was a story in the news a few years ago about a horrible car accident. A mother and her children were hit and killed by a drunk driver. This woman’s husband and one of their children were not in that car, and were affected by this horrible accident. This man made a statement explaining that he forgave the driver (who lived through the accident) and hoped that he and his family could also find forgiveness and peace through the tragic incident (story in the Utah news). This man believed in forgiveness because of his religion, but this is one of the greatest examples of Stoicism, as well.
This paper has discussed the three important theories of happiness: Hedonism, Cynicism, and Stoicism. It showed the differences and similarities between these different philosophies by examples, and the definitions. It also discussed the important philosophers in these theories, and gave some basic and easy information.
References: Archetypes of wisdom; Douglas J. Soccio.
Websites: www.philosophypages.com; www.plato.stanford.edu/contents.html.
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