Happiness Newsletter of Dec. 27, 2002., and
Aristippus the Cyrene
and John Stuart Mill
The General Setting
A dinner party or " symposium" provides the setting for a playful,
yet profound meeting of minds" in which four pre-eminent "hedonists"-
those who believe happiness is defined in terms of pleasure and is the
sole good in life.
Aristippus of Cyrene, Epicurus, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill
present their varying conceptions of the art of pleasure and the good
The nature of the subject – pleasure, happiness – a fertile ground
for both humour and edification, the combination of the historical
characters, lively discussion, skits and audience participation make
for interested and engaged viewing as well as a compelling appeal for
reflection over how and why one is living the way one is.
The Main Characters:
Aristippus of Cyrene (ca 435-356 B.C), founder of Cyreanic
Hedonism is known for advocating the pursuit of momentary pleasures,
uninhibited hedonism focusing on Carpe diem (enjoying the present
Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) founder of Epicurianism and the Garden
of Athens- teaches that the good life is refined intellectual pleasure
and contentment by valuing the durable pleasures of friendship.
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) British utilitarian and quantitative
hedonist—pleasure is of one kind and only differs in quantity and
degrees, not quality.
John Stuart Mill (1806-1973) British utilitarian and
qualitative hedonist- pleasures differ in quantity and kind, from
animalistic to superior spiritual properly human pleasures.
One by one, and in the historical lineage the four philosophers
appear, have a brief introductory conversation with the hostess, and
then disappear into the party. The dialogue reveals something about
their thought, much about their character, each dressed historically.
The Hostess- Compulsive, somewhat frenetic and neurotic, and
humorous in that. She has called for and organised the dinner party.
She is a contemporary character representing modern anxieties about
values and " life-styles"; she has consulted the hedonists,
transcended history to bring them together to see what wisdom they
Various players, characters, revellers at the party, taking
part in merriment, actively "whooping it up" and acting in the skits.
Audience members called up for
" Audience participation" segments.
Joyous song, dance and poetry. Anonymous characters recite and
revel, addressing audience with their song and poems while frolicking
with one another. The recurrent theme of CARPE DIEM- seize the day- is
The contrasting themes of pleasure and pain are introduced,
evolving intone a conflict between pleasure and pain. This finally is
superseded with litanies and devotions to pleasure over pain and to
the importance of laughter and fun as time is flying (this is all
reflected in mood, music and dance and in the singing of the following
" Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old time is still- a flying;
And this same flower what smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying…
That age is best which is first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst,
Time still succeeds the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry
For having lost but once your prime
You may forever tarry.
(Robert Herrick, " To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time."
A lone character (The Hostess) stands outside the house, the
doorway on which is open and faces frontward to the audience. She is
The Hostess paces nervously, restlessly muttering. She has called
the characters together in her process of soul-searching and
She is anxious, somewhat neurotic,
concerned about the quality of her life. She represents modern
anxieties (à la Woody Allen) and has transcended history in an act of
unconscious hubris to see what wisdom she has to offer.
She is worried the guests will not enjoy themselves, that the party
will be a flop- that the pleasure seekers may have a painful
" What if they do not show?
What if … they just don’t…show?
What? I could be waiting, waiting, waiting for…hours, and waiting
for…like a fool!
Have I been a fool to invite them?
I mean it was some labour. I might have offended God or someone…or
(She stops, pauses, and is visibly perplexed).
But God wouldn’t be a hedonist, at least not from what I gathered.
Much more stern, and serious. Priests must be celibate, what kind of
pleasure would that be?
But…and this is the important question…am I a hedonist? I do admit
that for me a "good" life is one, which is a lot of fun, but is
pleasure the sole and highest good? My boss certainly wouldn’t think
so, not with the pain she causes me, or any of my teachers for that
No, I don’t think God is a hedonist—not with all the pain and
suffering in the world.
God! A pleasure seeking, dancing God! What am I talking about? The
closest I’ve ever felt to God is when I read that parable about the
soil and the seeds.
Now Jesus was a farmer (she begins to act the story out) " I am a
farmer, here I plant my seeds (bending), some fall on rich soil, some
Those which fall on rich soil grow tall and bear fruit. Those,
which fall on poor soil, are strangled by the weeds and are battered
by the rocks.
I’ve been anxious all my life…am I rich or poor soil?
(Sulking) God never showed in my garden! My garden didn’t bear any
fruit, for that matter.
Now come on, I can’t be nervous. I must calm myself, placate my
mind, stilling it like a calm lake, reflecting the primal energy of
the cosmos and radiating it through my now contented soul like energy,
paving the way to self-realisation. Expanding my consciousness.
Then maybe I can look back into my hidden self to uncover my latent
potential and realise my past identities, in past lives…(pauses)
PAST LIVES! (Shrugs this off).
Ah! Where are they, what if they don’t like my party (turns away
striking a thoughtful pose)
(Turns to the audience) What if you gave a dinner party for four
guys who believe pleasure to be the raison d’être for living?
My God! What if the pleasure seekers find pain? They won’t like it,
at all. If I fail I really bomb!
Ah well, the conversation will be good, and there’ll be good food
and wine; plenty of wine, plenty of it, but what if…it’s sour or
rotten? (Turns way, worried).
( End of Act I)
(Excerpt from Act 2
ARISTIPPUS OF CYRENE
(ENTERS ARISTIPPUS, from stage right. Aristippus is absently
wandering, arms full with ripe fruit. He is eating an apple,
sensuously, engrossed and indulging).
ARISTIPPUS, ARISTIPPUS! of Cyrene?
Aristippus, the father of hedonism, the first to declare quite
outrightly that pleasure is the sole good of life, that the good life
Welcome Aristippus, welcome…
(Aristippus walks by, enraptured with his food)
ARISTIPPUS! (Yelling) ARISTIPPUS! ARISTIPPUS!
(Frustratingly, still no reply. Hostess walks towards ARISTIPPUS,
takes from her pocket a delicate fruit, puts it in ARISTIPPUS ’
ARISTIPPUS notices it and begins to follow it as she pulls it back
and him to the door. As he reaches for it, she pulls it back, and he
comes falling in upon her.
Drat! Oh the pain. (He is holding his head) Ohhhh the pain!
Ohhhhhhh!… Where’s that luscious prospect of a fruit. (He grips the
hostess’ shoulder, begins to cry upon it).
ARISTIPPUS: (backs away, timid and seeming weak, overwhelmed with
needless suffering. He is uncomfortable, turning frantic).
Why must you do that? This p-p-p-p-pain! Is soooo disturbing!
Why must you do that? Why must you do that?
I just want to welcome you, that’s all. Now, ARISTIPPUS, let me
make sure I have this right—it’s very important to me. You …were the
father of hedonism, and you thought pleasure to be… (She stops, trying
ARISTIPPUS (interrupting her reflection)
Why do you ask me such things when I have this whole bounty of
fruit—ah delectable fruit—in my arms and
(Looking in through the open front door, eyes lighting up, growing
excited) and wine, and …look at all that! (ARISTIPPUS stumbles towards
the door, the hostess cuts him off).
ARISTIPPUS I want to talk to you.
(ARISTIPPUS trying to outmanoeuvre her to get into the door)
( he is not listening).
ARISTIPPUS! ARISTIPPUS, what is the good life? ( still not
( breaking down, the hostess wails)
Oh ARISTIPPUS what am I to do with myself?
( in a low whisper, while still looking in the door)
HOSTESS: ( surprised)
( turning towards her)
The supreme good in life is pleasure. You asked, so I answered.
Pleasure of what kind?
( still quietly)
Immediate, intense sensual gratification.
Well what about those more refined pleasures—discussion,
contemplation, chess? And what about what we are doing now—isn’t this
pleasure, at least sort of?
This is rest, mere tranquillity…It is more like indifference.
Pleasure, to be savoured, NOW! That is music to my ears. Pleasure is
like a gentle swaying motion, it is not mere rest. It is more like (
he begins to dance, with the hostess). Dancing! The gratification of
( he bites into an apple).
But what about of virtue?
Virtue . You mean ARETE ( virtue in Greek). Virtue is excellence in
pleasure, the capacity for enjoyment. And excellence in having
pleasure resides in being master not slave to pleasure.
Being master, is being in control, maintaining control over the
enjoyment in order to avoid suffering pain or disappointment.
That’s why I say " possess but not be possessed" by pleasure. And
about my lover " I have Lais, not she me!" Control but not be
controlled, this is how you win in the pleasure game.