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What is the philosophical term for Callicle's position here? The quotes are from Plato's Gorgias.

SOCRATES: [...] Tell me, then:—you say, do you not, that in the rightly-developed man the passions ought not to be controlled, but that we should let them grow to the utmost and somehow or other satisfy them, and that this is virtue?

CALLICLES: Yes; I do.

SOCRATES: Then those who want nothing are not truly said to be happy?

CALLICLES: No indeed, for then stones and dead men would be the happiest of all.

I have searched existentialism and hedonism but they appear too broad, so if either of them contain it, pointers to specific authors or works that treat the topic are welcome. Hedonism in particular I thought was what I was looking for, but it relies on realizing pleasure and avoiding pain, whereas Callicles assumes the "pain of desiring" as a part of happiness, later in the dialogue:

SOCRATES: [...] And now would you say that the life of the intemperate is happier than that of the temperate? Do I not convince you that the opposite is the truth?

CALLICLES: You do not convince me, Socrates, for the one who has filled himself has no longer any pleasure left; and this, as I was just now saying, is the life of a stone: he has neither joy nor sorrow after he is once filled; but the pleasure depends on the superabundance of the influx.

SOCRATES: But the more you pour in, the greater the waste; and the holes must be large for the liquid to escape.

CALLICLES: Certainly.

SOCRATES: The life which you are now depicting is not that of a dead man, or of a stone, but of a cormorant; you mean that he is to be hungering and eating?

CALLICLES: Yes.

SOCRATES: And he is to be thirsting and drinking?

CALLICLES: Yes, that is what I mean; he is to have all his desires about him, and to be able to live happily in the gratification of them.

I am asking for a philosophical school of thought that includes "unsatisfaction" or "the yearning for more" as a fundamental part of "happiness" (or maybe this is hedonism and I am not understanding it right).

EDIT: From the comments, it seems that assuming any kind of unsatisfaction as a condition for happiness leads to philosophies of "nothingness" or "the absolute", thus denying happiness?.

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    epicureans did close, hedonists do only pleasure.philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/96557/… Feb 17, 2023 at 19:59
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    reminds me a little of nietzsche
    – user64727
    Feb 17, 2023 at 22:45
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    @irecorsan I know little about Nietzsche, but he suffered quite a bit, especially during his madness, had addictions etc.. I would guess a large part of his work was about the line between masochism/sacrifice and glorifying one's own pain, vs using it as a motor to something more.
    – user64727
    Feb 18, 2023 at 17:11
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    Rather a comment than an answer proper: That would be a very strange philosophical position. Speaking of the effect as neuromodulators, serotonin (which is linked to satisfaction/happiness) and dopamine (which is linked to longing/striving/yearning) are antagonistic. Mind, both serotonin and dopamine can have multiple other effects as neurotransmitters. In other words, that philosophy would go against basic brain chemistry.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 20, 2023 at 12:34

2 Answers 2

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The pain of desire. There are two philosophers that I can think of who have ideas that might be what you are looking for – Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Both of them recognize the inevitability and pain of frustrated desire and propose ways of dealing with it. Schopenhauer takes the “pain of desire” to be a bad thing and believes that the route to happiness is to minimize desire. Nietzsche seems to think that happiness is the maximization of desire in the pursuit of power. But interpretation of this is contested, and what “power” means is not at all clear. What is for certain his ideas are very different from those of Callicles.

If you are looking for some elaboration and clarification of this episode of the Gorgias, some comments on the argument might be helpful.

The context. You are thinking about the supreme or highest value, which is taken to mean what life is all about. Two versions of this are pleasure and happiness. In the context of Greek ethics in particular, “happiness” is usually taken as a reference to Aristotle’s theory, and “pleasure” as a reference to Epicurus’ theory.

There are two snags here. If you think about pleasure and happiness without a theoretical context, the two words, though they do not mean the same, overlap extensively. Pleasure is normally taken to make people happy, and what makes people happy normally gives them pleasure.

But when you come to think about either Epicurus’ theory or Aristotle’s it turns out that what the words mean is not quite you might have expected. The word that Aristotle uses (eudaimoneia) means something more like “fortunate” or “a good life”. Epicurus’ ideas of pleasure are somewhat unusual; he was known for his ascetic life-style and pursuit of philosophy both of which Plato would approve of.

Plato’s view is more complicated. For him, pleasure and happiness in this world of shadows are meaningless beside the eternal value of the Form of the Good. Pleasure and happiness are transitory illusions unless they are directed at what is really good by reason. He objects to them not only because they are temporary but also because people may achieve them or lose them even when they do not deserve the gain or loss. For him, that is incompatible with ethics. Knowledge of the form of the good must be earned but it is not vulnerable to change due to external circumstances; that means that it alone is real, not an illusion. This underlies Socrates’ insistence in the Apology that a good man can come to no harm (which is why he does not fear death).

The argument. The argument is essentially an exchange of metaphors. No rational basis for choosing between them is provided. The debate has sunk to the level of abuse. Neither is really adequate.

Each metaphor focuses on part of what desire is and suggests that it is the whole. Callicles suggests that the end of desire is a kind of death. Socrates focuses on the repetitive cycle of desire and suggests that it is pointless. Callicles ignores the contentment or satisfaction that follows the achievement of desire. Socrates thinks that because I satisfy my hunger or thirst, that satisfaction is pointless because it is temporary; but that misunderstands the point of hunger or thirst.

Socrates doesn’t pay attention to the fact that there are many different kinds of desire. Callicles doesn’t recognize that desire involves a process. So, there is no worth-while argument here.

But there is a point to the episode. Callicles is ready to abandon philosophical argument in favour of rhetorical tactics. Socrates shows that he can fight with those weapons and still defeat Callicles. But Plato implicitly recognizes what he discusses at length in the Phaedrus, that the philosophical journey can require the use of non-philosophical methods as a stage along the way.

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  • Thank you for your time writing the answer, it was insightful and expanded on tangent topics I hadn't thought about.
    – user64708
    Feb 25, 2023 at 18:52
  • I'm glad I could help.
    – Ludwig V
    Feb 25, 2023 at 20:45
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Option 2 or punctuation error.

<I am asking for a philosophical school of thought that includes "unsatisfaction" or "the yearning for more" as a fundamental part of "happiness" (or maybe this is hedonism and I am not understanding it right).>

CALLICLES: You do not convince me, Socrates, for the one who has filled himself has no longer any pleasure left; and this, as I was just now saying, is the life of a stone: he has neither joy nor sorrow after he is once filled;*New Sentence* but the pleasure depends on the superabundance of the influx. Clearly hedonism.

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