Hedonism (from Ancient Greek: ἡδονή / hēdonḗ, “pleasure” and suffix -ισμός / -ismós) is a philosophical doctrine attributed to Aristippus of Cyrene according to which the pursuit of pleasures and the avoidance of suffering constitute the goal of human life existence. Hedonism differs from eudaemonism, theorized in particular by the Epicureans and the Stoics, who consider this time the search for happiness, rather than pleasure, as the goal of human life. However, although the Epicureans also consider it, they perceive the pleasures, when they are natural and necessary, as an intermediary making it possible to reach it. The Epicurean doctrine can therefore be seen either as eudaemonism or as a form of “reasoned hedonism”.

Possible meanings

Philosophical thought

The multiple pleasures of existence vary according to individuals and according to their education. Hedonistic thinkers have oriented their lives according to their own dispositions, but we find common themes: friendship, tenderness, sexuality, the pleasures of the table, conversation, a life constituted in the constant search for pleasures ( cf. Plato’s Gorgias), a healthy body. We can also find nobility of soul, knowledge and sciences in general, reading, the practice of arts and physical exercises, social good…

At the same time, the pains and displeasures to be avoided are: conflicting relationships and closeness to people without contractual capacities (without words), belittlement and humiliation, submission to an imposed order, violence, deprivation and frustrations justified by fables, etc.

Thus, there is no hedonism without personal discipline, without knowledge of oneself, of the world and of others. The direct foundations of a hedonistic philosophy are curiosity and a taste for existence on the one hand, and on the other hand autonomy of thought (and not belief), knowledge and experience of reality (insteed of faith). Hedonistic thought has been firmly opposed by the main monotheistic religions.

Many hedonistic philosophers, or having a conception that came close to it, have adopted atheistic positions (Michel Onfray, “atheist atheism as frank and clear negation of God” and denunciation of “post-religious” atheisms which accept all the ethical consequences religion-related) or agnostic; and in another dimension, an anarchist position (Michel Onfray, claiming “libertarian socialist society operated according to the mechanics of concrete micro-resistances” as the political modality of hedonism).

It should be noted, however, the existence of a line of Christian thought claiming the Christian faith as being true hedonism, because leading to the deepest and most lasting pleasure, in the contemplation of God. The most notable contemporary representative is John Piper, who does not hesitate to qualify his position as Christian hedonism, but the same idea is found in C. S. Lewis, Pascal, Erasmus, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine.

According to Nietzsche the claim of Christian hedonism is not legitimate. According to him, Christian hedonism is a distortion of reality, of what the nature of hedonism itself is. The Christian religion tends to take existing philosophical states, or traditions, or even truth and to empty them of their content, of their nature in order to remake them in a Christian form and thus to integrate them under a meaningless image to this religion.

According to Michel Onfray, hedonism is summed up by this maxim of Chamfort: “Enjoy and make people enjoy, without hurting you or anyone, that, I believe, is the whole morality”. For author Rudy Méliczek, hedonism must be measured and considered. Without some wisdom, it can be overused.


The doctrine is associated in particular in antiquity with Aristippus of Cyrene and Cyrenaism, and also, in part, with Epicurus, although their definitions of pleasure are different.

The latter recalls that present excessive pleasure must be avoided if it leads to future pain, while the Cyrenaics insisted on the fact that pleasure is always the present goal of the action, even if this end is relativized and modified in time.

Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, understood it as a “hedonistic calculus”, which was to systematize the idea of ​​measurement of pleasures in Plato’s Philebus. This calculation constitutes one of the bases of modeling in decision theory.

John Stuart Mill, who took up the utilitarian doctrine, then reproached Bentham for not having given a qualitative hierarchy of the nature of pleasures. But such a hierarchy takes us out of hedonism to introduce other valuations and other ends (such as that of “good life for man”, which seeks a value of happiness in addition to pleasures).


Cardinal Poupard sees in the West today a mentality of consumption – marked by hedonism – which would engender moral relativism and religious indifference.

The criticism of libertarian liberalism by Michel Clouscard brought to the left the idea of ​​”liberal hedonism”, the working class would have betrayed the socialist ideals by confusing the principles of freedoms and alienation brought by the libertarians with liberalism and mass consumption. We can also see a criticism of leftists with individualistic tendencies considered as naturally close to libertarians and neoliberals, and of socialist movements with eudaemonistic and hedonistic philosophies.

Includes texts from Wikipedia with license CC BY-SA 3.0, translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu

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