Even if you don’t know the meaning of hedonism, the odds are good that you’ve seen it in the world. This is what it is and its definition!
If there’s one thing that everyone in the world can agree upon, it’s that the pursuit of happiness is a core desire of humanity. To some people, this can be seen as the pursuit of the “good life.” To others, this looks like the maximization of happiness in as many places as possible. Each person lives with different definitions of pleasure, but everyone is looking to achieve a perfect state of well-being at the end of the day.
Hedonism is a group of theories and mentalities based on these ideas. It’s a somewhat controversial subject in the realm of philosophy, and it has plenty of implications in the modern world.
While one person’s form of hedonism might look different from someone else’s, this philosophical concept is something that unites virtually everyone on Earth — to an extent. To some people, this pursuit of pleasure is the core reality of life, while others believe that it is a way of life that is ultimately destructive.
While we can’t give you all the answers about whether a hedonistic lifestyle is morally reprehensible or not, we’re here to provide you with the basics of what it is. Read on to find out about the definition of hedonism, where the word and ideas come from, and what it looks like today.
What Is Hedonism?
Technically speaking, hedonism is a philosophy that believes that the highest good in life is achieving pleasure and achieving well-being. Within that, multiple different kinds of hedonism are grouped into the same umbrella.
Motivational or Psychological Hedonism believes virtually all human behavior is based around the base urges and desires to decrease pain and increase pleasure. This concept is based on conduct seen in all kinds of people and situations.
Axiological or Ethical Hedonism is a theory based on the idea that the only precious thing we should pursue is pleasure. This ethical theory states that pleasure is the only thing that has intrinsic value. This is often closely related to another idea called Utilitarian Hedonism, which shares a lot of similar focuses.
While these are two well-known and typically respected theories within philosophy, the general connotation of hedonism in the modern world is negative. When hedonism is discussed, it is usually seen through debauchery, egoism, and over-indulgence.
Since most people don’t take the time to actually learn and understand what hedonism means, the word itself has gotten a bad reputation over the years.
What Is the Etymology of the Word Hedonism?
The modern English word Hedonism (hēdn-ĭzəm) comes from the Ancient Greek
hēdonē (ἡδονή), “pleasure.” As time went on, the word transitioned into the Greek hēdonismos, which effectively translates into “delight.”
As the word evolved into the English language, the -ism suffix was added to the word. This made it more usable as a noun, enabling it to be the verbal basis of philosophical ideas.
Where Does the Philosophy of Hedonism Come From?
Along with its etymological origins, most of the modern understanding of hedonism is based on ancient Greek philosophers. People like Socrates, Plato, Epicurus, the Cyrenaics, Aristippus, and others spoke deeply on hedonism as an idea and theory. Their thoughts and writings informed much of the discussion on the topic for thousands of years and helped further philosophical discussions.
Hedonism rose as a theory in response to the philosophy of asceticism which is based on the concepts of being cynical and rejecting pleasure for enlightenment. Hedonism was recognized and championed by many philosophers and focused on the natural behaviors of humans.
As time went on, the basics of hedonistic philosophy became a big part of many different religions and belief systems. Elements of the value of pleasure fit into the criterion of epicureanism, Asian philosophy, Abrahamic philosophy, and modern attitudes toward life.
As time went on, the ideas of Hedonistic Utilitarianism became embraced by 18th and 19th-century philosophers like Jeremy Bentham and John Mill, who were major proponents of modern hedonism.
How Hedonism Shows Up in the Modern World
In the 21st century, many people view the excess luxury and indulgence that most people in first-world countries live in as hedonism. This has created the reactive philosophies of minimalism and asceticism, especially in digital technology and pleasure.
Many people believe that indulging in all of the benefits of the modern world is hedonistic in a bad way, which leads them to reject modern amenities. This is seen amongst groups of people like Amish Christians and extreme minimalists.
However, many people embrace modern excess and ease of life wholeheartedly. This is seen in many people’s lifestyles and life choices who have little regard for how their decisions and actions might negatively affect themselves — or other people.
In many cases, struggles with alcohol and substance abuse are seen as hedonism, as they are entirely focused on minimizing pain and enhancing pleasure. People who embrace the modern understanding of hedonism are typically seen as “letting themselves go,” which is generally negative.
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