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Epicureanism can be argued to be a form of Hedonism, holding the belief that pleasure is the only source of what is intrinsically good. The distinction between the two, as Hedonism seeks to maximise the net pleasure experienced in life, as total pleasure offset by total pain. Epicureanism regards ataraxia as a state of pleasure.

Ataraxia, is the result of absence of distress and suffering, as opposed to the actual experience of pleasure in and of itself. An analogy would be ataraxia is the polaroid negative of pain, as opposed to the true image of pleasure itself.

Epicurus advocated avoiding conflicting and vexatious situations and people. He himself was celibate, although he did not state categorically to avoid sexual relationships he did advocate against intense relationships or possibly very intimate relationships.

It could be argued the Epicureanism strives for avoidance,moderation and is risk averse, to an almost stringent point, as to exclude the more intense experiences of pleasure and in fact sounds like a life of boredom for many, as the emotional highs and lows can be a source of pleasure to some people.

Is it a valid argument that the Epicurean definition of a maximised pleasurable state, is more focused on the absence of pain, rather than the pursuit of pleasure, ergo Epicureanism is not a form of Hedonism?

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Is this risk aversion really maximising net pleasure or just minimising pain; in the process of avoiding pain, they may be reducing the net gain in pleasure.

  • I know very little about Eastern religions; do some of them value ataraxia? If so, that might provide more engagement points for thinking about this issue, even though it is not about Eastern religions. – labreuer Oct 28 '13 at 23:20
  • @labreuer the more view points the better – user19651 Oct 29 '13 at 2:49
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    Epicureans and Hedonists are maximizing the same thing; they just have different ideas about the weighting. An Epicurean is just a Hedonist who really dislikes distress/suffering and is hard to get really positively enthusiastic about anything. Or, alternatively, a Hedonist is an Epicurean who suffers merely by not doing something engaging and fun. – Rex Kerr Oct 29 '13 at 19:49
  • @RexKerr yes, I agree, but I am examining this risk aversion and asking is this really maximising pleasure or just minimising pain.. In the process of avoiding pain, they may be reducing the net gain in pleasure – user19651 Oct 30 '13 at 2:01
  • @Skippy - If they're saying everyone should do that, they're probably wrong. There's a large variation in personality with respect to how strong positive and negative stimuli are. – Rex Kerr Oct 30 '13 at 7:49
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One interesting thing I came across which is relevant is the way relatively contemporary thinkers saw Epicureans. In Cicero's writings, he refers to Epicureanism as a philosophy that tries to maximize the body's pleasure (he does this explicitly in book 1 of "The Ideal Orator"). Having said that, my understanding of Epicureanism is that the only way to experience true pleasure is by avoiding worldly things, which would seem to be the opposite of hedonism, where one would try to maximize worldly pleasure, not achieve some sort of higher pleasure. (Which allows us to compare Epicureanism to Eastern philosophy)

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I had the impression that Epicureanism suggests a moderate approach towards pleasure as a way to avoid a backlash of pain caused by delving too deep in pleasure sources, for instance the reactions from body after drinking or eating too much. In that sense, it might well be more focused on avoiding pain than on gathering pleasure, but would yet aim to a general increasing of total pleasure.

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