The Philosophies of Happiness

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Question #3 Jacob Lyman

The Philosophies of Happiness

Marijuana, football, video games, hanging out with friends, and reading. These are just a few things that people claim bring them happiness. But these things are limited and short-lived. We cannot do them all the time or we would grow tired of them. So how do we find true happiness that is long-term? This question stumps people every day. There’s been many people who have pondered this question, and even many people who believe they may have found the answer. In this paper, I will focus on the Hedonist, Cynic, and Stoic philosophies of happiness and those who created them, looking for the answer to our same question; how do we find true happiness?

The Hedonist Philosophy

In Grecian Philosophy, hedonism is a term that, when simply put, means pleasure is good and pain is bad. 1 When talking about hedonism you must split it into the two sub-fields. The first sub-field, Cyrenaic hedonism, was a doctrine created by a man named Aristippus. Aristippus was a follower and pupil of Socrates. Socrates’ teachings would later inspire Aristippus to do some of his own teachings and open a school of philosophy. Cyrenaic hedonism got its name from the town Cyrene, which was Aristippus’ home town and where Aristippus’ school of philosophy was located.

The philosophy behind Cyrenaic hedonism was that all pleasure is good, regardless of its source and that pleasure was the primary reason for living. It is human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain, thus all pleasure is good and we should always do what makes us happiest at that moment. The pleasures of Cyrenaic hedonism tended to be immediate and physical. Aristippus believed happiness came from very intense pleasures and was focused more on the quantity of pleasures than quality of them.2. Some of the Cyrenaic pleasures included; sex, drugs, and fattening foods.2 Although some of these pleasures may have been detrimental later on, this philosophy focuses more on the present, because the future is never certain.

The second sub-field of hedonism is known as Epicurean hedonism. The idea of Epicurean hedonism was first started by a man named Epicurus, hence the name ‘Epicurean hedonism’. Epicurus studied with the followers of both Plato and Aristotle, but didn’t accept either of their philosophies. He had his own ideas, which he began to teach. He started a school named The Garden, which was often known as reprehensible at the time because it allowed anyone to attend. Before The Garden’s uprooting, it was normal for schooling to be only for those of the higher class. So with the acceptance of prostitutes and others, who were known to be a part of the “lower class”, The Garden was quite scandalous.

Unlike Cyrenaic hedonism, Epicurean hedonism taught intellectual pleasure that leads to peace of mind.2 Instead of immediate pleasures in mass quantity, Epicurean hedonism believed in long lasting pleasures with great quality. Although they still believed in the basic root of hedonism, pleasure is good and pain is bad, they incorporated the idea of eliminating ALL unnecessary pain. This differentiates from the Cyrenaic approach, because although Aristippus believed in no pain, his actions and desire for immediate pleasure would often times cause pain later on. In the Epicurean approach they did things that would give them long lasting pleasure that would remove unnecessary pain all together. Epicurean hedonists were not set on living the longest lives, but more focused on living the finest.1 Instead of concentrating on doing drugs, having sex, and eating fatty foods they read books, made relationships, and ate good, nutritious foods.2

The Cynic Philosophy

Cynicism is quite different from hedonism. In fact, cynics actually despised the hedonists and their practice. Cynicism was founded by a man named Antisthenes. Antisthenes was a huge fan of Socrates and was said to have walked five miles each day just to hear Socrates speak.1 Socrates’ rugged look of not wearing shoes, and how he was content in basic, unexciting clothing really inspired Antisthenes. When Socrates died, Antisthenes started a school called the Cynosarges, where he would teach his philosophy of Cynic hedonism. Another big advocate of cynicism was Diogenes. Diogenes led the Cynic teachings along with Antisthenes and was known for how well he lived his life, accordingly to the Cynic Approach.

Cynics believed in living a very plain and simple life and that society itself was corrupt. They believed that things such as manners, fashion, money, success, or really anything that society finds appealing, corrupts you and prevents you from finding true happiness. An individual is less vulnerable, the less they need to be happy. It is said that one day, while Diogenes was in his empty wine barrel on the beach, Diogenes observed a young boy drinking from his hands. When Diogenes witnessed this boy, and how content he was drinking from his hand, he threw away his cup and began to drink from his hands as well. Although quite extreme, Diogenes believed that since he was able to survive without them, cups were a corruption of society and that you don’t need a cup to be happy. Diogenes was a very extreme Cynic, and that is perhaps why he always comes up during in the cynicism conversation. The main idea of Cynicism implied that you control your own happiness and don’t need to rely on material things for it. If Antisthenes and Diogenes lived today, they would most likely look down on many things in our modern world such as cell phones, social media, and the internet. Although Cynics took it to extremes, the belief of creating your own happiness is a popular concept and is found in most all of the philosophies of happiness.

The Stoic Philosophy

Now to our final philosophy of happiness, Stoicism. The origins of stoicism go back to a man named Zeno. Zeno founded Stoicism around 300 B.C and began teaching at his school called Stoa Poikile, which means painted porch. His followers were called Stoics, which means “men of the porch”.1 Perhaps one of the most important Stoics was Epictetus. Epictetus was a slave, who, through being a slave, realized he could not control much other than how he reacted to things.3 This way in which Epictetus lived his life, was most likely why he was such a good Stoic and why he’s known as one of the most important philosophers in Stoicism.

Stoicism is defined as the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.4 This definition perfectly describes the beliefs of the Stoic philosophy. Much like the philosophy of the Cynics, Stoicism believe that you create your own happiness. But unlike the extremist view of the cynics, the Stoics did not eliminate everything society believes brings happiness. Instead, they believed that your happiness came from yourself and how you react or behave towards any given situation. To relate to a more modern phrase, Stoics are much like Grecian optimists.

With this being said, Stoics still prefer to not go through pain or hardships. Clearly one prefers to be healthy rather than sick or wealthy rather than poor. However, they recognized that there will always be pain and hardships, we cannot control that. What we can control, is our attitude towards these hardships, and, in this sense, all unhappiness is avoidable.2 Stoicism believes that their, so called, fate is controlled. Fate is determined by what they call Logos. Logos is a force that governs the universe, and acts much like a ‘God’. Everything that exists is connected to Logos.1 They also believed that we must have a “disinterested” attitude towards our own lives. This would make the world have more unity, opposed to a world of self-centeredness. And unlike the hedonists, who only distinguished life based on good or bad emotions, the Stoics rejected emotion as often as possible. They were “detached” from their emotions and just accepted the logos.

In conclusion, there are three major Grecian philosophies; hedonism (which is broken into Cyrenaic hedonism and Epicurean hedonism), cynicism, and stoicism. The Cyrenaic hedonists believed in having a lot of intense, immediate pleasure and avoiding pain at all costs. Alternatively, the Epicurean hedonists believed not in immediate pleasure, but long-lasting pleasure that would eliminate pain later on in life and bring peace of mind. Next was the Cynics, who rejected and eliminated all things that society believed led to happiness, because they believed that one should create their own. Lastly, there was the Stoics. Who, similar to the cynic’s, believed one has the potential to create their own happiness by your reaction to the Logos, which governs the universe.

After learning and gaining an understanding of these philosophies I don’t necessarily consider any of them by themselves to lead to true happiness. I believe that each philosophy contains good thoughts and ideas within it, but none of them alone can provide true, long-term happiness. I think it takes the application of each of these philosophies, in moderation, to achieve happiness. But saying that is the easy part. The real challenge is actually applying these philosophies to our everyday lives.

1 Archetypes of Wisdom, pg. 182-184

2 Class notes, Handout 7

3 ‘Stoicism’, The Internet Encyclopedia of philosophy


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