Hedonism is the view that the pursuit of pleasure is the highest good. Although some think of hedonism as only a philosophy of “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you die,” there are various forms of hedonism.
“Psychological hedonism” holds that people are primarily pain and pleasure beings. Thus, the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain governs all their choices. “Egoistic hedonism” is the perspective that the pursuit of one’s own pleasure is the highest good. “Altruistic hedonism,” argues that the highest good is the pursuit of the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
Hedonism has a long history. The Cyrenaics of ancient Greece held that pleasure was the only worthwhile pursuit. The Epicureans under the guidance of Epicurus (341–270 B.C.) asserted that pleasure is the beginning and end of a happy life. They also stated that there were different levels of pleasure. Once a person’s basic needs of food, drink, and sex were met, people could then focus on higher pleasures such as cultivating meaningful friendships. Later, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill would promote Utilitarianism which is a form of altruistic hedonism.
Hedonism has often been criticized as a worldview. Some have stated that the exaltation of pleasure as the highest good is unhealthy. Others have stated that pleasure is hard to define. Plus, what if the pursuit of pleasure leads to conflict between people?