Hedonism appears in many of the world’s philosophies and religions. Given that human beings are fundamentally driven to attaining pleasure, this is no surprise. The question, of course, is how to achieve pleasure (or its various aspects, such as contentment), and how to do so ethically. The most resolutely Hedonistic school is probably Cyrenaicism, which was founded by Aristippus of Cyrene, a disciple of Socrates. In some ways the opposite of Stoicism, Cyrenaicism sought to adapt circumstances to oneself rather than adapt oneself to circumstances. That is, similar to what the Existentialists later proposed, man should act in accordance with his own moral and pleasure-seeking compass. However, that doesn’t mean this would necessarily lead to anti-social behavior: Aristippus famously said “Wise people, even though all laws were abolished, would still lead the same life.”
Hedonism refers not to a specific school, but a general philosophy under which many different philosophies and religions adhered to. Cyrenaicism was ultimately supplanted by Epicureanism in Greece, which was also Hedonistic, but took a more tempered approach to maximizing pleasure. Aspects of Hedonism can be found in Judaism and Christianity as well as Chinese religions like Taoism and Yangism. The more modern philosophy of Utilitarianism, where the correct path is the one that creates the most happiness for the most people, is a refined version of Hedonism.
In seeing pleasure as the greatest good, the Hedonist makes it a point to discover what gives themselves (and others) pleasures in their lives and then assiduously pursues them. Since everyone has different tastes, it’s up to the Hedonist to adopt a skeptical but affectionate approach to life and their interactions with others.
Anyone who’s a chef, who loves food, ultimately knows that all that matters is: ‘Is it good? Does it give pleasure?’
— Anthony Bourdain
You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.
― Woody Allen
Salvation is for the feeble, that’s what I think. I don’t want salvation, I want life, all of life, the miserable as well as the superb.
― Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
I finally figured out the only reason to be alive is to enjoy it.
― Rita Mae Brown