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Pleasure and pain
Pleasure-Seeking Behaviour
Pleasure and Drugs
Avoiding Pain

Help Linked Module: Les socratiques mineurs Linked Module: Aristippus (c. 435-356 B.C.) Linked Module: Cyrenaics
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Researcher Module: John Locke (1632-1704)
History Module: LE BONHEUR - HORS-SERIE History Module: Une introduction au plaisir

Eudaemonism is a fairly general moral doctrine according to which the purpose of action is happiness.

Hedonism is more specific. It affirms that it is by seeking pleasure that we find happiness.

Epicureanism says that we should seek mainly simple, natural pleasures. Thus, epicureanism is a particular form of hedonism, which in turn is one of the possible approaches to eudaemonism.

Epicureanism can also be regarded as a middle path between hedonism and stoicism. Stoicism, a form of morality from ancient times, teaches indifference to the things of the senses and sees happiness in virtue and in that which accords with the divine plan.

Linked Module: Cynisme et stoïcisme

Though the concept of hedonism (see sidebar) was not formalized until the 19th century, what it refers to goes back much earlier. Since ancient times, many philosophers have defended this way of conceiving the quest for happiness, centred on seeking pleasure while fleeing from pain.

Epicurus (347 to 270 B.C.) is undoubtedly the key proponent of this philosophy. In his Letter to Menoeceus, he sets out the principles of his sensualist, rationalist ethic. His main point in this letter is that one can live to seek pleasure without being debauched or perverse.

For the Epicureans, happiness is thus something attainable. But to attain it, we must distinguish those pleasures that are natural and necessary, such as eating and drinking, from those that are not. Since Epicureanism teaches that we must seek only those pleasures that are natural and necessary, it implies a certain asceticism. Compared with the unchecked pleasure-seeking that the word Epicureanism evokes today, the Epicureanism of antiquity thus involved a certain reserve. It was a fairly austere philosophy, which sacrificed certain pleasures to avoid greater displeasures.
After many centuries of repression, the philosophies inspired by the body were revived by Locke (1632-1704) and Hume (1711-1776) in England, as well as by Diderot (1713-1784) in France. These three men are the major representatives of what has been called sensualist ethics. Combining hedonism, materialism, and empiricism, sensualist morality, which appeared in the 17th and 18th centuries, was immediately criticized by idealist and religious philosophers.

This is no surprise because, according to sensualist ethics, it is our senses that must be the criteria for judging good and bad. What brings satisfaction to our senses is called “good” and what displeases them is called “bad”. These philosophers recognized that we naturally seek to satisfy certain bodily needs, and that the pursuit of our desires and our pleasures enables us to establish standards for just action. For them, our knowledge and ideas also come from our senses, from the combination of our senses, and from the repetition of our experiences and observations.

This idea that the well-being of the individual must be the foundation for morality evolved into Utilitarianism, a radical conception of the economic individual and economic society that emerged in the 19th century.

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