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(sīrĭnā`ĭks, sĭ–), 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. It is thus an early version of hedonismhedonism
[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 Aristippus and the early Cyrenaics, who believed that pleasure was achieved by the complete gratification of
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, but its importance in philosophy declined in favor of the later version of 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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. It drew upon certain of Socrates' ethical views and also upon aspects of the view of knowledge held by the Sophists. 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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 of Cyrene, its founder, held that since each person can know only his own sensations, there can be no universal standard of what is pleasurable—hence, all pleasures are equally valuable. His followers modified this doctrine by distinguishing between greater and lesser pleasures. Theodorus held man's happiness to be a state of cheerfulness, while Anniceris stressed the pleasures of friendship, society, and patriotism. Hegesias (called the Death-Persuader) taught that a happy life is pure illusion and that the complete suppression of pain, i.e., death, is the only end worth pursuing.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a school of philosophy in ancient Greece that developed Socrates’ principles along the lines of a consistent hedonism. Founded by Aristippus of Cyrene, it was continued by his daughter Arete and grandson Aristippus and, later, by Theodorus, Hegesias, and Annikeris. The founder of the school, Aristippus, taught (as had Protagoras) that sensations tell nothing about objects in the external world but only correspond to mental movements and therefore are always true. Since there are no external criteria for evaluating mental movements or sensations (of which there are three kinds—pleasure, pain, and indifference), the concept of good, central to Socratic ethics, is replaced by that of pleasure. Thus, for the Cyrenaics, as for the Epicureans, the goal of human life is pleasure.

The consistent pursuit of individual pleasure brought some Cyrenaics (Theodorus) close to the Cynics’ contempt for conventional rules and religious traditions; others (Hegesias) pessimistically concluded that the hedonistic ideal was unrealizable in human life and that, therefore, one may strive only for the absence of suffering—death. Annikeris’ high regard for friendship, patriotism, and family feeling may be seen as an effort to transcend the Cyrenaics’ hedonism and as a foreshadowing of Epicureanism.


Aristippi et Cyrenaicorum fragmenta. Edited by E. Mannebach. Leiden-Cologne, 1961.


Gompertz, T. Grecheskie mysliteli, vol. 2. St. Petersburg, 1913.
Losev, A. F. Istoriia antichnoi estetiki: Sofisty, Sokrat, Platon. Moscow, 1969. Pages 108–18. (Bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.