Profiles in Skepticism: the Cyrenaics

by Massimo Pigliucci

The Cyrenaics were the original hedonists, far more so than their more successful later competitors, the Epicureans. Their creed was that pleasure is the only true good, and by pleasure they meant physical and immediate. No delayed gratification for them, and no fancy intellectual stuff either. The Cyrenaics were the true sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll practitioners of the ancient world!

Yet Richard Bett, in his chapter in the collection Skepticism: From Antiquity to Present, considers the possibility that the Cyreanics were also skeptic, at least when it came to their epistemology, their theory of knowledge.

Sextus Empiricus, the major exponent of the Pyrrhonist school (well, other than Pyrrhus himself!) disagreed. He pointed out, to begin with, that the goal of a Cyrenaic life was pleasure, while the goal of a Skeptic life is ataraxia, freedom from worry. But that, frankly, is neither here nor there. Ataraxia is no more inherently a skeptical goal than virtue or pleasure. Just consider that the Cicero, a prominent member of the other school of Greco-Roman skepticism, the Academics, thought that the goal of is to live virtuously, similar to what the Stoics also maintained. … (continue at Substack)