Cyrenaic Reasonings II: Hegesias and Anniceris


Magnanimous people seem disdainful. – Hegesias

Hegesias had a huge difference of opinion with Anniceris on what makes up the ideal life. Among his anti-social views, we find that he believed that the sage is like a king, has no peer and can’t have friends. He viewed all human relations as subject-object interactions and considered people to be merely instrumental. He also praised the virtue of detached enjoyment of courtesans and the treatment of women as sexual objects, with the understanding that the objectification was mutual.

Lampe argues that “hero ethics” was domesticated by philosophers, and that Hegesias embodies a sort of “heroic code”, where the philosopher is likened to a king. The traditional Greek heroic code involved good reputation, tokens of honor, competition, and violence. This heroic code does not seem particularly hedonistic, and in fact seems to generate great pain and bring ruin to the people.

There is another instance where this ancient intellectual does not seem to fit the profile of a pleasure-seeker. Hegesias claimed that happiness (eudaimonia) was impossible, and his pessimism was notorious for having influenced some of his listeners to commit suicide, according to spurrious surviving anecdotes.

Like Aristippus the Younger, Hegesias believed in a “comprehensive end”, which he defined as “no pain or distress”. He also did not differentiate between sources of pleasure and, in defence of his virtue of indifference, he once said:

It doesn’t matter how much money you have, the rich don’t experience pleasure differently from the poor … Fame and ignominy are (also) indifferent to pleasure.

He argued that when we disdain fame, we become self sufficient in honor, and that since most people lack the intelligence to judge whether or not we’re great, we should therefore live with indifference to fame (that is, lathe biosas).

He also argued (less convincingly) that slavery and freedom were equal and could afford similar amounts of pleasure. This, of course, is a questionable, perhaps a false, consolation.


Anniceris valued non-instrumental friends, respect for parents, action for one’s country, and gratitude. Anniceris was reacting against Hegesias in these respects, which concern the best means that lead to a life of pleasure.

His main disagreement with Hegesias had to do with the role of friends and the good will of others: he argued that, even if we initially acquire friends for utilitarian reasons–for advantage or benefit–ultimately these relationships evolve into a source of pleasure derived from the happiness and wellbeing of the other. Epicurus’ doctrines, when viewed against the backdrop of these controversies, are clearly a continuation and defence of Annaceris’ brand of hedonism. On the value of friends for their own sake and not as instruments, Lampe says:

Anniceris’ doctrine is not only consistent, it is a great improvement on the doctrine of his mainstream predecessors. It preserves the fundamental role of each individual’s experiences of pleasure and pain while simultaneously acknowledging the real psychological force and importance of normal human relationships.

Among his main contributions to the Cyrenaic tradition, Anniceris seems to have taken an interest in elaborating an “economy of pleasure” that defines value in terms of a currency of hedons and dolors (which represent units of pleasure and pain). This indicates that–like later thinkers–he proposed an ethics where choices and avoidances are based on hedonic calculus, and in fact Anniceris seems an important link between and the Cyrenaic procession of arguments and those of the Epicureans.

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' and founder of He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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2 Responses to Cyrenaic Reasonings II: Hegesias and Anniceris

  1. Pingback: Cyrenaic Reasonings III: Theodorus the Godless | The Autarkist

  2. Pingback: Cyrenaic Reasonings – Epicurean Database

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