Hedonism and Epicureanism were two significant schools of thought in Ancient Greece that focused on the question of pleasure. These philosophies differed in their approaches to pleasure but shared some significant similarities. In many ways, these debates between hedonism and Epicureanism are still relevant today. Here’s a look at the critical points of both philosophies and how they differ from one another.
Hedonism: The Pursuit of Pleasure for its Own Sake
Hedonism is the philosophy that holds that pleasure is the highest good. This doesn’t just mean enjoying a nice meal or a glass of wine; hedonists believe that all human action should be motivated by the pursuit of pleasure.
The first thing to understand about hedonism is that it is not the same as self-indulgence. Hedonists do not believe that people should gorge themselves on food or drink or indulge in any other sort of excess. Instead, they believe that people should pursue moderate pleasures in a balanced way. This balance is necessary because excesses can lead to pain, which is the opposite of pleasure.
The hedonist philosopher Aristippus argued that there are three types of pleasure:
- Bodily pleasures (such as eating and sex)
- Possessions (such as money and power)
- Knowledge (such as art and music)
According to Aristippus, all three types of pleasure are equally valid; it is up to each individual to decide which type(s) of pleasure they will pursue.
Epicureanism: The Pursuit of Pleasure as a Means to Happiness
While hedonists believe pleasure is the highest good, epicureans argue that happiness is the highest good. For epicureans, pleasure is a means to happiness rather than an end in itself.
The epicurean philosopher Epicurus believed that there are two types of pleasure: natural and unnatural. Natural pleasures are those that satisfy our basic needs, such as food and shelter. Unnatural pleasures, such as expensive clothes or unnecessary possessions, go beyond what we need. Epicurus argued that natural pleasures are good because they satisfy our needs; unnatural pleasures are evil because they do not lead to satisfaction but to further desires.
So What are the Key Differences Between the Two Philosophies?
The most crucial difference between hedonism and Epicureanism is their respective views on pleasure. Hedonists believe pleasure is the highest good, while epicureans believe happiness is the highest good. For epicureans, pleasure is a means to happiness rather than an end in itself.
Another critical difference between the two philosophies is their approach to excess. Hedonists believe that people should pursue moderate pleasures in a balanced way. At the same time, epicureans argue that people should avoid excesses altogether.
Finally, hedonists and epicureans differ in their views on the types of pleasure available to humans. Hedonists believe that there are no limits to their rights to attain pleasure. Thus they will attempt to attain pleasure regardless of whether the consequences that follow are morally right or wrong. In comparison, Epicureans do not believe in overindulgence and instead seek pleasure to a more limited degree. For example, if given cake, a hedonist will eat it until they throw up. In contrast, an Epicurean will indulge in the cake until they are satisfied but not ill.
In conclusion, while hedonism and Epicureanism are two different philosophies, they share some significant similarities. Both philosophies place a high value on pleasure, and both believe that people should pursue moderate pleasures in a balanced way. The key difference between the two philosophies is their respective views on the highest good; for hedonists, it is pleasure, while for epicureans, it is happiness. In many ways, these debates between hedonism and Epicureanism are still relevant today.