The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Hedonism describes any way of thinking that gives pleasure a central role. Hedonism can be generally summed up as "Pleasure is the highest good", or in an ethical formulation, "whatever causes pleasure is right."

There are primarily two positions in modern hedonism: that of psychological hedonism, claiming that as living beings we naturally seek pleasure; and ethical hedonism, the claim that we should seek pleasure as the highest moral good. One constant objection is that where one finds pleasure, another may find pain, leading to a contradiction in what the moral act is.

Even if one assents that the highest good is pleasure, it is still difficult to ascertain what it is that brings the most pleasure. For example, a night of pleasurable heavy drinking can lead to painful consequences that outweigh the initial pleasure.

Theories of Hedonism

Epicureanism is the best-known form of ancient hedonism. Epicurus identified pleasure with tranquility, and emphasized the reduction of desire over the immediate acquisition of pleasure. In this way, Epicureanism escapes the preceding objection: while pleasure and the highest good are equated, Epicurus claimed that the highest pleasure consists of a simple, moderate life, spent with friends and in philosophical discussion.

The Utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill is sometimes classified as a type of hedonism, as it judges the morality of actions by their consequent contributions to the greater good and happiness of all. Note that this is considered to be "selfless" hedonism; whereas Epicurus recommends doing whatever makes an individual happiest (over the long run), Mill promotes actions which make everyone happy. Compare individualism and collectivism.

Some of Sigmund Freud's theories of human motivation have been called psychological hedonism; his "life instinct" is essentially the observation that people will pursue pleasure. However, he introduces extra complexities with various other mechanisms, such as the "death instinct".

Christian Hedonism is a term for a theological movement promoted by several prominent church leaders of past and present, the tenets of which are that humans were created by (the Judeo-Christan) God with the purpose of lavishly enjoying God through knowing, worshipping, and serving him. This philosophy recommends pursuing the happiness and love of God as the ultimate in human fulfillment. Similar to the Epicurean view, the highest pleasure is regarded as something long-term and found not in indulgence but in a life devoted to God.

Quite a few people equate hedonism with sexuality and having a very loose or liberal view of the morality of sex. On the other side of the spectrum would be antisexual, though the denial of sex as the highest pleasure in no way resigns one to fully abstaining from sex.

External links

  • The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on:
    • Epicurus:
    • Mill:
    • Freud:
  • Christian Hedonism:

Last updated: 06-01-2005 16:15:51
Last updated: 08-16-2005 13:02:30