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As far as Cyrenaic ethics is concerned, the most relevant source is Diogenes Laertius:
The end is not the same as happiness, since the end is particular pleasure [telos men gar einai tēn kata meros ēdonēn], whereas happiness is a collection made out of particular pleasures [eudaimonian de to ek tōn merikōn ēdonōn sustēma]. Among these both past and future pleasures are counted together. Particular pleasure is desirable because of itself. On the other hand, happiness is desirable not because of itself, but because of the particular pleasures.
(II 87–8=T 20)
We are immediately given the kernel of Cyrenaic ethics: pleasure is the end and pleasure is desirable in virtue of itself. On the other hand, the importance of happiness is derivative of pleasure, since happiness is not desirable for itself but in virtue of particular pleasures. In light of the predominance of pleasure over happiness, it has been claimed – quite correctly – that the Cyrenaics constitute the only exception to Greek eudaemonism: the view, absolutely central to Greek ethics, that happiness is the end of life. Later, while still endorsing the claim that the Cyrenaics are anti-eudaemonists, I shall restrict the scope of Cyrenaic hedonism by describing the secondary, yet proper role of happiness in the ethics of the Cyrenaics. For the moment, let us concentrate on the kernel of Cyrenaic hedonism, namely on the view that pleasure is the end.
This book aims to fill in a lacuna for the English-speaking reader by providing an introduction to the Cyrenaic school. It is intended both for undergraduates of philosophy, ancient philosophy and classics approaching the Cyrenaics for the first time and for more skilled postgraduates and scholars, who lack a general account of Cyrenaic philosophy at the moment. The book can be read at two different levels, corresponding to the two different readerships I have in mind. Informative parts will alternate with more philosophically sophisticated parts. These latter will be useful also to readers with little philosophical expertise but they are specifically targeted for a more skilled readership. Those readers, especially undergraduates, wishing to delve immediately into the philosophy of the Cyrenaics can begin with Part II. Part I intermixes philosophical questions with more historical matters and is more scholarly tuned.
The overall interpretation of the Cyrenaics I recommend in the course of the book is that of a school with a complete philosophical agenda, spanning ethics, epistemology, metaphysics and philosophy of language. More unconventionally, I also defend the claim that, together with other ancient philosophers such as Protagoras and Pyrrho, the Cyrenaics can be inscribed into a line of metaphysical enquiry that is centred on indeterminacy; namely, the view that things in the perceptual world do not have any intrinsic ontological essence. This claim is doubly radical, in its own right and in relation to the Cyrenaics.
The Cyrenaic school of philosophy (named after its founder Aristippus' native city of Cyrene in North Africa) flourished in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Ugo Zilioli's book provides the first book-length introduction to the school in English. The book begins by introducing the main figures of the Cyrenaic school beginning with Aristippus and by setting them into their historical context. Once the reader is familiar with those figures and with the genealogy of the school, the book offers an overview of ancient and modern interpretations of the Cyrenaics, to provide readers with alternative accounts of the doctrines they endorsed and of the role they played in the context of ancient thought. Finally, the book offers a reconstruction of Cyrenaic philosophy and shows how the ethical side of their speculation connected with the epistemology and ontology they endorsed and that, as a result, the Cyrenaics were able to offer a quite sophisticated philosophy. Indeed, Zilioli demonstrates that they represented, in ancient philosophy, an important and original metaphysical position and alternative to the kind of realism endorsed by Plato and Aristotle.
Omnis Aristippum decuit color et status et res, temptantem maiora, fere praesentibus aequum.
TEXTUAL EVIDENCE: DIOGENES LAERTIUS
Diogenes Laertius gives us by far the most extended treatment of the Cyrenaic school and its genealogy, in terms of the persons involved in that school and of the doctrinal views endorsed by its members. Diogenes' life of Aristippus is contained in The Lives of Eminent Philosophers, book II, sections 65–104: rather a lengthy exposition. Before entering into the details on Aristippus' life and doctrine that Diogenes offers us, I shall give a brief outline of the whole section. Diogenes' account opens (DL II 65) with a brief biographical note on Aristippus; a long section on anecdotes about him follows, where many of his apothegms are reported (II 66–83). A short section (II 83) on the homonyms is then followed by the catalogue of Aristippus' writings (II 83–5). At the end of this section, there is a much-debated sentence reporting the attribution of an important doctrinal view to Aristippus. According to Diogenes, “he declared that the end [telos] is the smooth motion [leian kinēsin] resulting in perception [eis aisthēsin anadidomenēn]”. After this sentence, there is the proper doxological section (II 85–104), reporting, in a detailed way, the main philosophical views to be attributed to the Cyrenaics.
In this chapter, we start off by focusing on Cyrenaic metaphysics: a quite unfashionable topic to address because the general view among scholars is that the Cyrenaics had no real interest in metaphysics. The Cyrenaics are traditionally believed to concentrate only on ethics, leaving aside, if not rejecting, the other branches of philosophy. This view rests on a misunderstanding of two passages by Sextus and Seneca (Sext. Emp. Math. VII 11 and 15 [=SSR IV A 168=T 31]; Sen. Ep. ad Lucilium XIV 1, 12 [=SSR IV A 165]). In those passages Sextus and Seneca explain that the Cyrenaics only apparently adopted a moral approach to philosophy. They effectively reintroduced those branches of philosophy (such as logic, the study of nature and of the causes [=metaphysics], and the study of affections [=epistemology]) that they seem to have rejected by dividing their moral philosophy into these sub-branches.
One may add that Aristotle is historically responsible for the invention of metaphysics as a proper branch of philosophy in the middle of the fourth century BCE, that is, at the time when the Cyrenaics were flourishing. The focus on metaphysics as a proper branch of philosophy is something that only Hellenistic philosophers could have witnessed. It would be inappropriate to say that Plato, Protagoras, Democritus and the Socratic schools had no interest in metaphysics and did not elaborate any metaphysical views.
Among the sources on the Cyrenaics, Sextus is the only one who reports a rather interesting Cyrenaic argument on language. I quote Sextus' passage in full:
They [the Cyrenaics] say that no criterion is common to human beings, common names are assigned to objects [onomata de koina tithesthai tois chrēmasin]. (196) All in common in fact call something white or sweet, but they do not have something common that is white or sweet. Each human being is aware of his own private affection. One cannot say, however, whether this affection occurs in oneself and in one's neighbour from a white object, since one cannot grasp the affection of the neighbour, nor can his neighbour, since he cannot feel the affection of that other person. (197) And since no affection is common to us all, it is hasty to declare that what appears to me a certain way appears the same way to my neighbour as well. Perhaps I am constituted so as to be whitened by the external object when it comes into contact with my senses, while another person has the senses constructed so as to have been disposed differently. In any case, the phainomenon is absolutely not common to us all [ou pantōs oun koinon esti tophainomenon hēmin].[…]
In this book I have tried to amplify the field of interests of the Cyrenaics by adding metaphysics and philosophy of language to ethics and epistemology. In so doing, I have also offered an ambitious interpretation of the Cyrenaic school by showing that, in addition to the school, there is a Cyrenaic philosophy for us to account for. By Cyrenaic philosophy I mean a coherent set of philosophical views (ethical, epistemological, metaphysical and semantic). I say that the set of philosophical views I see as representing Cyrenaic philosophy is coherent because I take Cyrenaic ethics to be perfectly organic with the epistemology and metaphysics of the school, as much as epistemology and metaphysics are in perfect accordance with the semantic approached adopted by the Cyrenaics.
The cardinal concept for Cyrenaic ethics and epistemology is that of affection (pathos). The two ethical key affections for the Cyrenaics are pleasure and pain, while they admit of an (epistemological) affection that is neutral from the ethical point of view and is purely representational. Cyrenaic pathē – both affective and representational – are best interpreted as originating from movements and alterations in us. In Cyrenaic philosophy, affections are wholly subjective. If I see a table as white, on the basis of Cyrenaic epistemology, I can be said to be whitened.
Together with Aristippus, Plato was a follower of Socrates. Plato and Aristippus were contemporaries and, both being philosophers, could have met and had discussions on many occasions. More importantly, Plato could have had first-hand knowledge of Aristippus' philosophy and doctrine. If this is so, Plato is likely to have confronted Aristippus' views in some of his dialogues. So if there is evidence that Plato discusses Cyrenaic views in some of his dialogues, we shall be in an excellent position to have vital information on Aristippus and his school. In short, we will be in a better position to argue for the foundation by Aristippus of the Cyrenaic school. It is plain that if Plato refers in his dialogues to some philosophical views that we can, with good reason, ascribe to Aristippus, this will show that Aristippus was a real philosopher whose views Plato wished to discuss for their doctrinal relevance. If Plato held Aristippus to be a philosopher, the probability that he founded a Socratic school would be much higher. That is why detractors of Aristippus aim to disregard Plato's testimony. They wish to prove that, since there is no real evidence that Plato refers to Aristippus in his dialogues, that is a clear sign that Aristippus did not elaborate any of the views that are characteristic of the Cyrenaic school (see Giannantoni 1958: 117–69; 1991: vol. I, 1H Appendix).