The Cyrenaics or Kyrenaics (Ancient Greek: Κυρηναϊκοί; Kyrēnaïkoí) were a sensual hedonist Greek school of philosophy founded in the 4th century BCE, supposedly by Aristippus of Cyrene, although many of the principles of the school are believed to have been formalized by his grandson of the same name, Aristippus the Younger. The school was so called after Cyrene, the birthplace of Aristippus. It was one of the earliest Socratic schools. The Cyrenaics taught that the only intrinsic good is pleasure, which meant not just the absence of pain (as it did for Epicurus), but positively enjoyable sensations. Of these, momentary pleasures, especially physical ones, are stronger than those of anticipation or memory. They did, however, recognize the value of social obligation and that pleasure could be gained from altruistic behaviour. The school died out within a century and was replaced by the philosophy of Epicureanism.

Aristippus of Cyrene

History of the school

The history of the Cyrenaic school begins with Aristippus of Cyrene, who was born around 435 BCE. He came to Athens as a young man and became a pupil of Socrates. We have only limited knowledge of his movements after the execution of Socrates in 399 BCE, although he is said to have lived for a time in the court of Dionysius of Syracuse.

It is uncertain precisely which doctrines ascribed to the Cyrenaic school were formulated by Aristippus.[1] Diogenes Laërtius, based on the authority of Sotion and Panaetius, provided a long list of books said to have been written by Aristippus. However, Diogenes also wrote that Sosicrates had stated that Aristippus had written nothing.[2] Among Aristippus' pupils was his daughter, Arete of Cyrene, who passed on his teachings to her own son Aristippus the Younger. It was he, according to Aristocles,[3] who turned the teachings of his grandfather into a comprehensive system.[4] At the least, however, it can be said that the foundations of Cyrenaic philosophy were ideas originated by the elder Aristippus.[5]

After the time of the younger Aristippus, the school broke up into different factions, represented by Anniceris, Hegesias, and Theodorus, who all developed rival interpretations of Cyrenaic doctrines, many of which were responses to the new system of hedonistic philosophy laid down by Epicurus.[6] By the middle of the 3rd century BC, the Cyrenaic school was obsolete; Epicureanism had successfully beaten its Cyrenaic rivals by offering a system which was more sophisticated.[7]


The Cyrenaics were hedonists and held that pleasure was the supreme good in life, especially physical pleasure, which they thought more intense and more desirable than mental pleasures.[8] Pleasure is the only good in life and pain is the only evil. Socrates had held that virtue was the only human good, but he had also accepted a limited role for its utilitarian side, allowing pleasure to be a secondary goal of moral action.[5][9] Aristippus and his followers seized upon this, and made pleasure the sole final goal of life, denying that virtue had any intrinsic value.


The Cyrenaics were known for their skeptical theory of knowledge. They reduced logic to a basic doctrine concerning the criterion of truth.[10] They thought that we can know with certainty our immediate sense-experiences (for instance, that I am having a sweet sensation now) but can know nothing about the nature of the objects that cause these sensations (for instance, that the honey is sweet).[5] They also denied that we can have knowledge of what the experiences of other people are like.[11]

All knowledge is of one's own immediate sensation. These sensations are motions which are purely subjective, and are painful, indifferent or pleasant, according as they are violent, tranquil or gentle.[5][12] Further they are entirely individual, and can in no way be described as being of the world objectively. Feeling, therefore, is the only possible criterion of knowledge and of conduct.[5] Our ways of being affected are alone knowable. Thus the sole aim for everyone should be pleasure.


Cyrenaicism deduces a single, universal aim for all people which is pleasure. Furthermore, all feeling is momentary and homogeneous. It follows that past and future pleasure have no real existence for us, and that among present pleasures there is no distinction of kind.[12] Socrates had spoken of the higher pleasures of the intellect; the Cyrenaics denied the validity of this distinction and said that bodily pleasures, being more simple and more intense, were preferable.[8] Momentary pleasure, preferably of a physical kind, is the only good for humans.

However some actions which give immediate pleasure can create more than their equivalent of pain. The wise person should be in control of pleasures rather than be enslaved to them, otherwise pain will result, and this requires judgement to evaluate the different pleasures of life.[13] Regard should be paid to law and custom, because even though these things have no intrinsic value on their own, violating them will lead to unpleasant penalties being imposed by others.[8] Likewise, friendship and justice are useful because of the pleasure they provide.[8] Thus the Cyrenaics believed in the hedonistic value of social obligation and altruistic behavior. Like many of the leading modern utilitarians, they combined with their psychological distrust of popular judgments of right and wrong, and their firm conviction that all such distinctions are based solely on law and convention, the equally unwavering principle that the wise person who would pursue pleasure logically must abstain from that which is usually thought wrong or unjust. This idea, which occupies a prominent position in systems like those of Jeremy Bentham,[12] Volney, and even William Paley, was clearly of prime importance to the Cyrenaics.

Later Cyrenaics

The later Cyrenaics, Anniceris, Hegesias, and Theodorus, all developed variations on the standard Cyrenaic doctrine. For Anniceris, pleasure is achieved through individual acts of gratification which are sought for the pleasure that they produce,[14] but Anniceris laid great emphasis on the love of family, country, friendship and gratitude, which provide pleasure even when they demand sacrifice.[15] Hegesias believed that happiness is impossible to achieve,[14] and hence the goal of life becomes the avoidance of pain and sorrow.[13] Conventional values such as wealth, poverty, freedom, and slavery are all indifferent and produce no more pleasure than pain.[16] For Hegesias, Cyrenaic hedonism was simply the least irrational strategy for dealing with the pains of life.[14] For Theodorus, the goal of life is mental pleasure not bodily pleasure,[17] and he placed greater emphasis on the need for moderation and justice.[18] He was also famous for being an atheist.[17] To some extent these philosophers were all trying to meet the challenge laid down by Epicureanism,[16] and the success of Epicurus was in developing a system of philosophy which would prove to be more comprehensive and sophisticated than its rivals'.[7]

The philosophy of the Cyrenaics around the time of Hegesias of Cyrene evolved in a way that has similarities with Skepticism, Epicurianism and also Buddhism.[19] In fact, there are striking similarities with the tenets of Buddhism,[19] in particular the Four Noble Truths and the concept of Dukkha or "suffering". Coincidentally, the rulers of Cyrene around the time Hegesias flourished, the Ptolemaic king of Egypt Ptolemy II Philadelphus and from 276 BC the independent king Magas of Cyrene, are both claimed to have been recipients of Buddhist missionaries from the Indian king Ashoka according to the latter's Edicts.[19][20][21] It is therefore sometimes thought that Hegesias may have been directly influenced by Buddhist teachings through contacts with the alleged missionaries sent to his rulers in the 3rd century BC.[a][24]

See also


  1. ^ "The philosopher Hegesias of Cyrene (nicknamed Peisithanatos, "The Death-Persuader") was contemporary of Magas and was probably influenced by the teachings of the Buddhist missionaries to Cyrene and Alexandria. His influence was such that he was ultimately prohited to teach" —Jean-Marie Lafont . Les Dossiers d'Archéologie (254): 78, INALCO [22]. Jean-Marie Guyau also paralleled his teachings to Buddhism.[23]


  1. ^ Annas 1995, p. 229
  2. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, ii. 84f
  3. ^ Aristocles ap. Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, xiv. 18
  4. ^ Reale & Catan 1986, p. 272
  5. ^ a b c d e Copleston 2003, p. 121
  6. ^ Long 2005, p. 633
  7. ^ a b Long 2005, p. 639
  8. ^ a b c d Annas 1995, p. 231
  9. ^ Reale & Catan 1986, p. 271
  10. ^ Reale & Catan 1986, p. 274
  11. ^ Reale & Catan 1986, pp. 274–5
  12. ^ a b c Annas 1995, p. 230
  13. ^ a b Copleston 2003, p. 122
  14. ^ a b c Annas 1995, p. 233
  15. ^ Copleston 2003, p. 123
  16. ^ a b Annas 1995, p. 232
  17. ^ a b Annas 1995, p. 235
  18. ^ Long 2005, p. 637
  19. ^ a b c Berenice II and the Golden Age of Ptolemaic Egypt, Dee L. Clayman, Oxford University Press, 2014, p.33
  20. ^ Ashoka: The Search for India's Lost Emperor, Charles Allen, Hachette UK, 2012, p.117
  21. ^ Berenice II Euergetis: Essays in Early Hellenistic Queenship, Branko van Oppen de Ruiter, Springer, 2016, p.22
  22. ^ Lafont, INALCO.
  23. ^ Éric Volant, Culture et mort volontaire, quoted in
  24. ^ Historical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Philosophy, Anthony Preus, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, p.184


  • Annas, Julia (1995), The Morality of Happiness, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-509652-5
  • Long, A. A. (2005), "The Socratic Legacy", in Algra, Keimpe; Barnes, Jonathon; Mansfeld, Jaap; Schofield, Malcolm (eds.), The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-61670-0
  • Reale, Giovanni; Catan, John R. (1986), A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Origins to Socrates, SUNY Press, ISBN 0-88706-290-3

Further reading

  • Diogenes Laertius (1925). Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Translated by Robert Drew Hicks. 2 vols. Vol. 1, The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Lampe, Kurt (2014). The Birth of Hedonism: The Cyrenaic Philosophers and Pleasure as a Way of Life, Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-16113-5
  • Tsouna, Voula (1998). The Epistemology of the Cyrenaic School, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62207-7
  • Zilioli, Ugo (2012). The Cyrenaics, Acumen Publishing. ISBN 1-84465-290-4

External links

Arete of Cyrene

Arete of Cyrene (; Greek: Ἀρήτη; fl. 5th–4th century BC) was a Cyrenaic philosopher who lived in Cyrene, Libya. She was the daughter of Aristippus of Cyrene.


Aristippus of Cyrene (; Greek: Ἀρίστιππος ὁ Κυρηναῖος; c. 435 – c. 356 BCE) was the founder of the Cyrenaic school of Philosophy. He was a pupil of Socrates, but adopted a very different philosophical outlook, teaching that the goal of life was to seek pleasure by circumstances to oneself and by maintaining proper control over both adversity and prosperity. His outlook came to be called "ethical hedonism." Among his pupils was his daughter Arete.

There are indications that he was conflated with his grandson, Aristippus the Younger.

Australian philosophy

Australian philosophy refers to the philosophical tradition of the people of Australia and of its citizens abroad.

Cosmology (philosophy)

Philosophical cosmology, philosophy of cosmology or philosophy of cosmos is a discipline directed to the philosophical contemplation of the universe as a totality, and to its conceptual foundations. It draws on several branches of philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of physics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics, and on the fundamental theories of physics. The term cosmology was used at least as early as 1730, by German philosopher Christian Wolff, in Cosmologia Generalis.


Cyrene may refer to:

Cyrene (mythology), an ancient Greek mythological figure

Cyrene, Libya, an ancient Greek colony in North Africa (modern Libya)

Cyrenaica, the region around the city

Cyrenaics, an ancient Greek school of philosophy

Cyrene, Georgia, a community in the United States

Cyrene, Missouri, a community in the United States

Cyrene (Xena: Warrior Princess), a fictional character in the television series Xena: Warrior Princess

Cyrene (steamboat), a steamboat that ran on Puget Sound and Lake Washington, 1891–1912

USS Cyrene (AGP-13) (AGP-13), a 1944 motor torpedo boat tender

Crete and Cyrenaica, a province of the Roman Empire

133 Cyrene, an asteroid

a synonym for Nycerella, a genus of spiders

Cyrene (Creative Kingdom), a setting in the online game Entropia Universe

Cyrene, a trade name for dihydrolevoglucosenone

Cyrene, Libya

Cyrene (; Ancient Greek: Κυρήνη, romanized: Kyrēnē) was an ancient Greek and later Roman city near present-day Shahhat, Libya. It was the oldest and most important of the five Greek cities in the region. It gave eastern Libya the classical name Cyrenaica that it has retained to modern times. Located nearby is the ancient Necropolis of Cyrene.

Cyrene lies in a lush valley in the Jebel Akhdar uplands. The city was named after a spring, Kyre, which the Greeks consecrated to Apollo. It was also the seat of the Cyrenaics, a famous school of philosophy in the fourth century BC, founded by Aristippus, a disciple of Socrates.

Danish philosophy

Danish philosophy has a long tradition as part of Western philosophy.

Perhaps the most influential Danish philosopher was Søren Kierkegaard, the creator of Christian existentialism, which inspired the philosophical movement of Existentialism. Kierkegaard had a few Danish followers, including Harald Høffding, who later in his life moved on to join the movement of positivism. Among Kierkegaard's other followers include Jean-Paul Sartre who was impressed with Kierkegaard's views on the individual, and Rollo May, who helped create humanistic psychology.

Early modern philosophy

Early modern philosophy (also classical modern philosophy) is a period in the history of philosophy at the beginning or overlapping with the period known as modern philosophy.

Ethical egoism

Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to act in their own self-interest. It differs from psychological egoism, which claims that people can only act in their self-interest. Ethical egoism also differs from rational egoism, which holds that it is rational to act in one's self-interest.

Ethical egoism holds, therefore, that actions whose consequences will benefit the doer can be considered ethical in this sense.

Ethical egoism contrasts with ethical altruism, which holds that moral agents have an obligation to help others. Egoism and altruism both contrast with ethical utilitarianism, which holds that a moral agent should treat one's self (also known as the subject) with no higher regard than one has for others (as egoism does, by elevating self-interests and "the self" to a status not granted to others). But it also holds that one is not obligated to sacrifice one's own interests (as altruism does) to help others' interests, so long as one's own interests (i.e. one's own desires or well-being) are substantially equivalent to the others' interests and well-being, but he has the choice to do so. Egoism, utilitarianism, and altruism are all forms of consequentialism, but egoism and altruism contrast with utilitarianism, in that egoism and altruism are both agent-focused forms of consequentialism (i.e. subject-focused or subjective). However, utilitarianism is held to be agent-neutral (i.e. objective and impartial): it does not treat the subject's (i.e. the self's, i.e. the moral "agent's") own interests as being more or less important than the interests, desires, or well-being of others.

Ethical egoism does not, however, require moral agents to harm the interests and well-being of others when making moral deliberation; e.g. what is in an agent's self-interest may be incidentally detrimental, beneficial, or neutral in its effect on others. Individualism allows for others' interest and well-being to be disregarded or not, as long as what is chosen is efficacious in satisfying the self-interest of the agent. Nor does ethical egoism necessarily entail that, in pursuing self-interest, one ought always to do what one wants to do; e.g. in the long term, the fulfillment of short-term desires may prove detrimental to the self. Fleeting pleasure, then, takes a back seat to protracted eudaimonia. In the words of James Rachels, "Ethical egoism ... endorses selfishness, but it doesn't endorse foolishness."Ethical egoism is often used as the philosophical basis for support of right-libertarianism and individualist anarchism. These are political positions based partly on a belief that individuals should not coercively prevent others from exercising freedom of action.

Existential nihilism

Existential nihilism is the philosophical theory that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism suggests that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. According to the theory, each individual is an isolated being born into the universe, barred from knowing ‘why’, yet compelled to invent meaning. The inherent meaninglessness of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism, where one can potentially create their own subjective ’meaning’ or ’purpose’. Of all types of nihilism, existential nihilism has received the most literary and philosophical attention.


Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that the pursuit of pleasure and intrinsic goods are the primary or most important goals of human life. A hedonist strives to maximize net pleasure (pleasure minus pain). However upon finally gaining said pleasure, happiness may remain stationary.

Ethical hedonism is the idea that all people have the right to do everything in their power to achieve the greatest amount of pleasure possible to them. It is also the idea that every person's pleasure should far surpass their amount of pain. Ethical hedonism is said to have been started by Aristippus of Cyrene, a student of Socrates. He held the idea that pleasure is the highest good.

Hegesias of Cyrene

Hegesias (Greek: Ἡγησίας; fl. 290 BC) of Cyrene was a Cyrenaic philosopher, the Cyrenaics forming one of the earliest Socratic schools of philosophy. He argued that happiness is impossible to achieve, and that the goal of life was the avoidance of pain and sorrow. Conventional values such as wealth, poverty, freedom, and slavery are all indifferent and produce no more pleasure than pain. Cicero claims that Hegesias wrote a book called Death by Starvation, which persuaded so many people that death is more desirable than life that Hegesias was banned from teaching in Alexandria. It has been thought by some that Hegesias was influenced by Buddhist teachings.

Hellenistic philosophy

Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy that was developed in the Hellenistic period following Aristotle and ending with the beginning of Neoplatonism.

Philosophy of film

The philosophy of film is a branch of aesthetics within the discipline of philosophy that seeks to understand the most basic questions regarding film. Philosophy of film has significant overlap with film theory, a branch of film studies.

Socratic dialogue

Socratic dialogue (Ancient Greek: Σωκρατικὸς λόγος) is a genre of literary prose developed in Greece at the turn of the fourth century BC. It is preserved in the works of Plato and Xenophon. The discussion of moral and philosophical problems between two or more characters in a dialogue is an illustration of one version of the Socratic method. The dialogues are either dramatic or narrative and Socrates is often the main participant.

Successions of Philosophers

Successions of Philosophers or Philosophers' Successions (Greek: Διαδοχὴ τῶν φιλοσόφων) was the name of several lost works from the Hellenistic era. Their purpose was to depict the philosophers of different schools in terms of a line of succession of which they were a part. From the 3rd to the 1st centuries BC there were Successions (Greek: Διαδοχαί) written by Antigonus of Carystus, Sotion, Heraclides Lembos (an epitome of Sotion), Sosicrates, Alexander Polyhistor, Jason of Nysa, Antisthenes of Rhodes, and Nicias of Nicaea. The surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius (3rd century AD) draws upon this tradition.

In addition to these, there were often histories of single schools. Such works were created by Phanias of Eresus (On the Socratics), Idomeneus of Lampsacus (On the Socratics), Sphaerus (On the Eretrian philosophers), and Straticles (On Stoics). Among the papyri found at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, there are works devoted to the successions of the Stoics, Academics, and Epicureans. In a later period, Plutarch produced On the First Philosophers and their Successors and On the Cyrenaics, and Galen wrote On Plato's Sect and On the Hedonistic Sect (Epicureans). There were often biographies of individual philosophers with a brief description of his successors. Of such nature were Aristoxenus's Life of Pythagoras, Andronicus's Life of Aristotle, Ptolemy's Life of Aristotle, and Iamblichus's Life of Pythagoras.

Turkish philosophy

Turkish philosophy has long been affected by Islam and the country's proximity to Greece and ancient Greek philosophy.


Yangism (Chinese: 楊朱學派; pinyin: Yángzhūxuépài) was a philosophical school founded by Yang Zhu, existent during the Warring States period (475 BCE – 221 BCE), that believed that human actions are and should be based on self-interest. The school has been described by sinologists as an early form of psychological and ethical egoism. The main focus of the Yangists was on the concept of xing, or human nature, a term later incorporated by Mencius into Confucianism. No documents directly authored by the Yangists have been discovered yet, and all that is known of the school comes from the comments of rival philosophers, specifically in the Chinese texts Huainanzi, Lüshi Chunqiu, Mengzi, and possibly the Liezi and Zhuangzi. The philosopher Mencius claimed that Yangism once rivaled Confucianism and Mohism, although the veracity of this claim remains controversial among sinologists. Because Yangism had largely faded into obscurity by the time that Sima Qian compiled his Shiji, the school was not included as one of the Hundred Schools of Thought.


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