The Cyrenaics were an ultra-hedonist Greek school of philosophy founded in the 4th century BC, allegedly by Aristippus of Cyrene or his grandson of the same name, so called after Cyrene, the birthplace of Aristippus. It was one of the two earliest Socratic schools.
PhilosophyThe Cyrenaics held that pleasure was the supreme good, but pleasure primarily in the sense of bodily gratifications, which they thought more intense and more choice-worthy than mental pleasures. They also denied that we should defer immediate gratification for the sake of long-term gain. In these respects they differ from the Epicureans.
The Cyrenaics were also known for their skeptical theory of knowledge. 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). They also denied that we can have knowledge of what the experiences of other people are like.
As Hedonists, they believed that pleasure is the only good in life and pain is the only evil. Like most other philosophers, they believed in living according to nature, also. Socrates, although he held that virtue was the only human good, admitted to a certain extent the importance of its utilitarian side, making happiness at least a subsidiary end of moral action. Aristippus and his followers seized upon this, and made it the prime factor in existence, denying to virtue any intrinsic value. Logic and physical science they held to be useless, for all knowledge is immediate sensation (see Protagoras). These sensations are motions which (1) are purely subjective, and (2) are painful, indifferent or pleasant, according as they are violent, tranquil or gentle. Further they are entirely individual, and can in no way be described as constituting absolute objective knowledge. Feeling, therefore, is the only possible criterion alike of knowledge and of conduct. Our modes of being affected alone are knowable. Thus Cyrenaicism goes beyond the critical scepticism of the Sophists and deduces a single, universal aim for all men, namely pleasure. Furthermore, all feeling is momentary and homogeneous. It follows (1) that past and future pleasure have no real existence for us, and (2) that among present pleasures there is no distinction of kind, but only of intensity. Socrates had spoken of the higher pleasures of the intellect; the Cyrenaics denied the validity of this distinction and said that bodily pleasures as being more simple and more intense are to be preferred. Momentary pleasure, preferably of a carnal kind, is the only good for man.
Yet Aristippus was compelled to admit that some actions which give immediate pleasure entail more than their equivalent of pain. This fact was to him the basis of the conventional distinction of right and wrong, and in this sense he held that regard should be paid to law and custom. It is of the utmost importance that this development of Cyrenaic hedonism should be fully realized. To overlook the Cyrenaic recognition of social obligation and the hedonistic value of altruistic emotion is a very common expedient of those who are opposed to all hedonistic theories of life. 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 man who would pursue pleasure logically must abstain from that which is usually denominated wrong or unjust. This idea, which occupies a prominent position in systems like those of Jeremy Bentham, Volney, and even William Paley, was evidently of prime importance at all events to the later Cyrenaics.
Cyrenaic in German: Kyrenaiker
Cyrenaic in Spanish: Escuela cirenaica
Cyrenaic in French: Cyrénaïsme
Cyrenaic in Croatian: Kirenska škola
Cyrenaic in Icelandic: Kýrenuheimspeki
Cyrenaic in Italian: Scuola cirenaica
Cyrenaic in Hungarian: Kürénéi hedonizmus
Cyrenaic in Polish: Cyrenaicy
Cyrenaic in Russian: Киренаики
Cyrenaic in Slovak: Kyrénska škola
Cyrenaic in Finnish: Kyreneläiset
Cyrenaic in Swedish: Kyrenaiker
Cyrenaic in Turkish: Kirene Okulu