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(hē`dənĭz'əm) [Gr.,=pleasure], the doctrine that holds that pleasure is the highest good. Ancient hedonism expressed itself in two ways: the cruder form was that proposed by AristippusAristippus
, c.435–c.360 B.C., Greek philosopher of Cyrene, first of the Cyrenaics. He held pleasure to be the highest good and virtue to be identical with the ability to enjoy.
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 and the early CyrenaicsCyrenaics
, one of the minor schools of Greek philosophy, flourishing in the late 4th and early 3d cent. B.C. Cyrenaic philosophy taught that present individual pleasure is the highest good.
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, who believed that pleasure was achieved by the complete gratification of all one's sensual desires; on the other hand, EpicurusEpicurus
, 341–270 B.C., Greek philosopher, b. Samos; son of an Athenian colonist. He claimed to be self-taught, although tradition states that he was schooled in the systems of Plato and Democritus by his father and various philosophers.
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 and his school, though accepting the primacy of pleasure, tended to equate it with the absence of pain and taught that it could best be attained through the rational control of one's desires. Ancient hedonism was egoistic; modern British hedonism, expressed first in 19th-century utilitarianismutilitarianism
, in ethics, the theory that the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by its usefulness in bringing about the most happiness of all those affected by it.
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, is universalistic in that it is conceived in a social sense—"the greatest happiness for the greatest number."


See J. C. Gosling, Pleasure and Desire (1969).



an ethical position that asserts that pleasure is the highest good and the criterion for human behavior and that reduces moral demands in all their diversity to pleasure. Hedonism views the striving for pleasure as man’s basic motivating principle, inherent and predetermining all his actions; this makes hedonism a variant of anthropological naturalism. As a normative principle hedonism is the opposite of asceticism.

In ancient Greece one of the first exponents of ethical hedonism was the founder of the Cyrenaic school, Aristippus (early fourth century B.C.), who regarded as the highest good the attainment of sensory satisfaction. The ideas of hedonism were developed differently by Epicurus and his followers. Here they approached the principles of eudaemonism, insofar as the criterion for satisfaction was considered to be the absence of suffering and tranquillity of the spirit (ataraxia). Hedonist ideas were widely disseminated during the Renaissance and, later, in the ethical theories of the philosophes. In the struggle against the religious conception of morality T. Hobbes, J. Locke, P. Gassendi, and the French materialists of the 18th century frequently had recourse to the hedonist interpretation of ethics. The principles of hedonism achieved their fullest expression in the ethical theories of utilitarianism, which conceived of utility as pleasure or the absence of suffering (J. Bentham, J. S. Mill). Some modern bourgeois theoreticians also subscribe to ideas of hedonism, including G. Santayana (USA), M. Schlick (Austria), and D. Drake (USA). Marxism criticizes hedonism primarily for its naturalistic and ahistorical conception of man. It sees in hedonism an extremely simplified interpretation of the driving forces and motivations of human behavior, an interpretation that tends toward relativism and individualism.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch, 2nd ed. vol. 3, pp. 418-20.
“Pis’ma i fragmenty Epikura.” In the collection: Materialisty drevnei Gretsii. Moscow, 1955.
Gomperz, G. Zhizneponimanie grecheskikh filosofov i ideal vnutrennei svobody. St. Petersburg, 1912. (Translated from German.)
Helvétius, C. A. O cheloveke, ego umstvennykh sposobnostiakh i ego vospitanii. Moscow, 1938.
Holbach, P. H. “Sistema prirody ili o zakonakh mira fizicheskogo i mira dukhovnogo.” Izbr. proiz., vol. 1. Moscow, 1963. (Translated from French.)



The doctrine that every act is motivated by the desire for pleasure or the aversion from pain and unpleasantness.


a. the doctrine that moral value can be defined in terms of pleasure
b. the doctrine that the pursuit of pleasure is the highest good
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