The Origins of Hedonism

by on September 6th, 2010
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From the birth of civilization the ethics philosophers have laid the groundwork for how society views itself in the determination and interpretation of how society views what is right and wrong. From these fundamental philosophies, the evolution of ethical thought and practice has grown from a historical to a contemporary viewpoint that is only dictated by region, culture, and the identity of the society that reflects it. Through the comparison of four ethics philosophers a direction towards today’s ethical practices can be followed. Though fundamental in nature each philosophy creates a different pathway in which the world and the ethical inheritance can be viewed

The Greek philosopher Epicurus (342-270 B.C.) is noted as the father of ethical hedonism (Cook, 1996). The idea of ethical hedonism is to minimalize pain and maximize pleasure. This differs from psychological hedonism which will allow the individual to seek pleasure at the cost of other people’s personal freedoms or opinions. The philosopher felt that we are human and as defined as human beings, we have an innate drive towards pleasure, and in finding pleasure we find that it is good. Epicurus lived his life giving advice on how to decrease life pains and trying to explain the explicit nature of pleasure. He did have enough forethought to state that even though we seek to minimize pain, the lack of pain does not always guarantee happiness (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, nd).

During the Middle Ages hedonism was thwarted due to Christian philosophers and their perception of sin. Though pleasure may be derived from Christian views of what is sinful, the true hedonist will find pleasure regardless of sin. Thomas More (1478-1535 A.D.) defends hedonism within his book “Utopia.” Here the British philosopher explains that “the chief part of a person’s happiness consist of pleasure.” He then goes on to explain that not only did God design us to be happy and to seek pleasure but that desire for pleasure will make us behave morally. The statement covered the Christian argument and the hedonism argument at its root.

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