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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.



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.)


References in periodicals archive ?
Unlike mainstream Cyrenaics, the Annicereans deny that friendship is chosen only because of its usefulness: the wise person cares for her friend and endures pains for him because of her goodwill and love.
20) Gail Fine, "Subjectivity, Ancient and Modern: the Cyrenaics, Sextus, and Descartes," en Hellenistic and Early Modern Philosophy, eds.
On the Cyrenaic derivation of prudence from the fear of punishment, see Richard Parry, "Ancient Ethical Theory," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2009 Edition), ed.
In the first, Long examines the Socratic legacy, and discusses the positions of the Cynics and the Cyrenaics.
In all, Lucian presents ten philosophers or schools: Pythagoras, Cynicism, the Cyrenaic, Epicureanism, Democritus, Heraclitus, Plato's Socrates, Stoicism, Aristotle, and Pyrronian skepticism.
18) Pater applies the term "Epicurean" quite broadly, for he seeks to define it as an aestheticizing impulse that spans history: "Every age of European thought," his narrator writes, "has had its Cyrenaics or Epicureans, under many disguises" (1:144).
It contains, in an appendix, a translation of the evidence bearing on Cyrenaic epistemology: if the Cyrenaics are not familiar to you, this book provides a good introduction to hall of what little we know about them, and registers some views about the other half (hedonism) as well.
The Cyrenaics raised doubts about other minds in connection with their central epistemological thesis that we are infallibly aware of our own experiences (pathe) but cannot know anything about the nature of objects in the world.
Within a hundred years or so of Protagoras' prominence, the Cyrenaics, the first Greek hedonists, used the concept to argue that immediate pleasure is the only good.
The Cyrenaics assert that: (1) particular pleasure is the highest good, and happiness is valued not for its own sake, but only for the sake of the particular pleasures that compose it; (2) we should not forego present pleasures for the sake of obtaining greater pleasure in the future.
For example, Bailey illuminatingly cites the Cyrenaics as counterexamples to Burnyeat's claim that the Greeks never applied the notion of belief to the contents of mental states; and the account of skepticism's relation to ordinary life, in the context of the criticism of Hallie, is attractively handled.
Here she provides the fullest overview to date of Hellenistic moral thought, beginning with Aristotle and covering the later Peripatetics, the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Cyrenaics, and the Skeptics both Academic and Pyrrhonist.