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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A036-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

The Cyrenaic school was a Greek philosophical school which flourished in the fourth and early third centuries bc. It took its name from the native city of its founder, Aristippus of Cyrene, a member of Socrates’ entourage. His most important successors were his grandson, Aristippus the Younger, and Theodorus, Anniceris and Hegesias, the heads of three separate Cyrenaic sects.

The basis of Cyrenaic philosophy is physiological and psychological. It focuses on the individual feelings of pleasure and pain which are classed as pathē, experiences produced in a subject by its contact with an object. They are described, respectively, in terms of smooth and rough movements, of the flesh or of the soul. A third category of pathē, described as intermediate between pleasure and pain, is also defined as movements and related to one’s perception of individual properties or qualities. All pathē are short-lived and have no value beyond the actual time of their occurrence.

These physiological characteristics are encountered both in the ethics and in the epistemology of the school. Although the Cyrenaics differed in their ethical doctrines, all of them attributed a central role in their systems to the individual bodily pleasure experienced in the present moment, and some of them considered it the moral end: it is pursued for its own sake, whereas happiness, conceived as the particular collection of pleasures that one experiences during a lifetime, is sought for the sake of its component pleasures. The goodness of individual pathē of pleasure is supported by an elaborate epistemological doctrine whose central claims are that we are infallibly and incorrigibly aware of the occurrence and content of our own pathē, but that we cannot apprehend the properties of external objects. A striking feature of this doctrine is the neologisms designating the perception of qualities, such as ‘I am whitened’ and ‘I am affected whitely’. This, and other features of Cyrenaic subjectivism, anticipate some modern philosophical analyses of subjective experience.

Citing this article:
Tsouna, Voula. Cyrenaics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A036-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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