ARISTIPPUS OF CYRENE (’Αριστιππος)—a philosopher, a student of Socrates, regarded as the founder of the philosophical school of the Cyrenaics, b. around 435, d. around 366 BC.
Aristippus was the first and most radical representative of hedonism, which identifies the good with pleasure (Greek ‘ηδονη [hedone]—pleasure). He was also called a sophist because he accepted payment for his lectures, and also because of some of his views.
According to the traditionally accepted hypothesis (cf. e.g., H. von Stein, 1958), Aristippus resided in Athens from 416. From 399 he took up residence in Aegina and in Corinth. In 389 and 388 he was with Plato in the court of Dionysius of Syracuse. After 356 he again resided in Athens. While still in Cyrene, Aristippus is said to have learned the doctrine of Pythagoras, and in Athens he became a student of Socrates. This order of events and the dates in the life of Aristippus has been questioned in the twentieth century. Today we cannot with certainty establish facts from the life of Aristippus or show which of his works are authentic (judging from ancient references, those works must have quickly passed into oblivion).
Today scholars (including E. Antoniades, G. Lieberg, E. Mannebach, and G. Giannantoni) think that, for first, Aristippus was not the founder of the school of the Cyrenaics but only had an influence on the formation of a certain philosophical and ethical tendency that later took the form of a school (in a broad sense); second, that Aristippus was not a theoretician of hedonism but only proclaimed a certain attitude in life that he accepted and taught according to the model of the Socratic art of living. The character of the ancient sources that refer to Aristippus leads scholars to accept this view. The great majority of those sources are anecdotal and apophthegmatic (i.e., they mention particular events, opinions, or speeches). They are rarely doxographic. In those source the theory of hedonism is almost always attributed to the Cyrenaics in general, not to Aristippus in particular. Most likely, therefore, under the influence of the doctrines of the Sophists and Socrates Aristippus began to teach a new kind of knowledge (or rather applied knowledge) closer to the ideal of ancient paideia than to a developed philosophical theory.
Aristippus was known for his skill in adapting to all circumstances in life and for playing the role most advantageous to himself in every situation, the role that would lead in the most certain way to profiting from the moment without concern for the future, and in this spirit he practiced philosophy. According to ancient accounts, Plato gave Aristippus the following compliment: “You alone are endowed with the gift to flaunt in robes or go in rages”. We may infer something of the pedagogical range of Aristippus’ work from the saying that Diogenes Laertius attributes to him (Diogenis Laërtii Vitae philosophorum, II 8): “It is better to be a beggar than to be uneducated (’απαιδευτος [apaideutos]); the one needs money, the other needs to be humanized (’ανθρωπισμος [anthropismos])”.
THE DOCTRINE OF HEDONISM. The doctrines Aristippus taught were connected with Socrates’ theories, but Aristippus’ non-Greek origins and his extravagant lifestyle caused his views to differ from the doctrines of his master. The essential differences are found in Aristippus’ doctrine of hedonism, the view that physical goods are superior to spiritual goods, and so present pleasure is the main motive in life, and material goods are necessary to achieve such pleasure. An easy carefree life and momentary physical pleasure have the greatest value (hence, e.g., lack of concern for the future). Pleasure is the end of all action, just as in the animal world. Happiness is the generality of particular pleasures thatare desired for their own sake. Happiness is desired not for itself but for the sake of these pleasures (cf. DLaert II 8). It is therefore wrong to renounce present pleasure for the sake of future happiness, but we should take pleasure at every moment it presents itself. Pleasures differ in intensity (one pleasure is more pleasant than another), but not in quality, that is, there are no higher and lower pleasures by nature.
Phenomenalism lay at the foundations of hedonism. According to phenomenalism only our sense impressions and subjective states (παθη [pathe]) that we experience can be known. The objects that evoke them cannot be known (we know nothing about those objects or the manner in which they affect us). The only data of which we are certain are subjective impressions of pleasure and pain. Knowledge is completely relative (the Sophists), and pleasure becomes the end of all action. Aristippus explains these subjective states in terms of motion: smooth motion is associated with pleasure, and rough motion is associated with pain. Rest and immobility is a neutral state in which pain and pleasure are lacking (immobility is unknowable and does not cause impressions). This doctrine is the source, among other things, of the thesis that pleasure as a positive state (as distinct from the doctrine of Epicurus, for example) determines the active role of the subject in his desire for happiness, although in Aristippus’ doctrine this subject has no confidence or optimism.
Aristippus takes a utilitarian approach to friendship. He compares a friend that provides no benefit to hair or fingernails that are destined to be cut away. Furtherore, Aristippus engaged in polemics with Socrates and rejected the ethos of the Greek polis. He was in favor of cosmopolitanism (“I don’t want to belong to any state as a citizen, but everywhere I will remain a foreigner”, Xenophon, Memoirs about Socrates, II 1, 13–14). This rejection of social structures and of participation in public life follows from the limitations that they place on hedonistic joy in life.
VIRTUE AND MODERATION. The influence of Socrates’ doctrine on Aristippus is most apparent in his understanding of virtue as the art of leading a pleasant life. According to Aristippus, virtue consists in mastery over pleasure (“It is praiseworthy not do deny oneself pleasures, but rather to know how to master them and not be their slave”, DLaert II 8). Unlike the conception of Socrates, virtue does not consist in master the desire for pleasure, but it mastering oneself in the very experience of pleasure. In this spirit, Aristippus also taught “contempt for everything that goes beyond the measure” (ibid.) including excess in satisfying the desire for pleasure. Hence we have a saying of Aristippus that was famous in ancient times: ’εχω ’αλλ’ ’ουχ ’εχομαι [echo, all' ouk echomai]” (I possess, but I am not possessed, ibid.). This saying was often repeated in Roman literature (“habeo, non habeor” Cicero, Epistulae ad familiares, IX 26, 2; “et mihi res, non me rebus subiungere conor”—Horatius, Epistulae, I 1, 19). This ability to renounce oneself and to maintain moderation in the experience of pleasure is distinctive of Aristippus’ hedonism and confirms the common-sense and practical character, as opposed to a theoretical and philosophical character, of Aristippus’ doctrine.
Aristippus followed Socrates in his rejection of all knowledge of nature as worthless. He also thought that mathematics was unnecessary. Only things that are universally accessible and useful and which are connected with good and evil are worth considering.
Aristippus’ ethics emphasizes the feeling of pleasure that can be achieved at particular moments and attracted much interest until the late ancient period. The Cyrenaics (the Cyrenaic school) developed and modified Aristippus’ doctrine of hedonism. Aristippus’ direct disciples included Areté (his daughter), Aithiops of Ptolemaida, and Antipater of Cyrene.
H. von Stein, De philosophia Cyrenaica, Gö 1855; G. Zuccante, Aristippus di Cirene nei dialoghi di Platone, Mi 1912; idem, I Cirenaici, Mi 1916; E. Antoniades, Aristippus und die Kyrenaiker, Gö 1916; G. B. L. Colosio, Aristippus di Cirene filosofo socratico, Tn 1925; A. Mauersberger, Plato und Aristippus, Hermes 60 (1926), 208, 304; Copleston, HPh I 142–145; C. J. Classen, Aristippus, Hermes 92 (1958), 182; G. Lieberg, Aristippus e la scuola cirenaica, RSF 13 (1958), 3–11; G. Giannantoni, I Cirenaici. Raccolta delle fonti antiche, tradusione e studio introduttivo, Fi 1958; A. Krokiewicz, Etyka Demokryta i hedonizm Arystupa [The Ethics of Democritus and the hedonism of Aristippus], Wwa 1960; Aristippi et Cyrenaicorum fragmenta (ed. E. Mannebach), Lei 1961; Diogenis Laërtii Vitae philosophorum, Ox 1964, II 8; Cyceron [Cicero], Pisma filozoficzne [Philosophical writings], III, Wwa 1961; Ksenofont [Xenophon], Wspomnienia o Sokratesie [Memoirs concerning Socrates], Wwa 1967 (passim); Reale I 415–428.