Aristippus (Greek Ἀρίστιππος, Latin Aristippus) (c. 435 – c. 355 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher from Cyrene in North Africa, founder of the Cyrenaic, or hedonic, school, disciple and friend of Socrates.

It is known that Aristippus came to Athens young, having been attracted by the fame of Socrates (Diog. Laert. II 65), and was able to become his disciple. Plutarch writes (De curiosit., 516c) of how Aristippus decided to study: arriving at the Olympic Games (believed to be the 91st), he met a certain Ischomachus, who so impressed Aristippus with his tales of Socrates that he caused him to desire to go to Athens to see the philosopher. If we consider the known date of Socrates” death (399 B.C.), then Aristippus studied with him for about ten years at the very beginning of the fourth century B.C.

He was the first of Socrates” pupils to begin taking money for teaching and even tried to send part of it (20 min) to his teacher, but Socrates refused to accept it, referring to his daimon. He was notorious among Socrates” disciples, including for his subservience to the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius (Diogenes called him “the king”s dog” for this), his love of luxury, and his association with hetaerae (Laida).

It should be noted that Aristippus clearly did not deserve such a nickname: although he loved luxury, he always parted easily with money, and never served anyone. The philosopher looked upon his sponsors as participants in his game: everything in the world is vanity and appearances, why not play that way? After all, the money was given to him voluntarily, not for anything in particular, but simply because he was just himself. And this approach clearly demonstrated that a man does not simply determine his own life, but does so more successfully the more he understands philosophy.

Among his students was his daughter Aretha.

The exact place and date of Aristippus” death are not known. He probably died in Cyrene, where he had a family and regular disciples. There is a version that is not fundamentally different: the Letters of the Socratics mention that the philosopher became very ill on his way to Cyrene from Syracuse, while on the island of Lipari. Perhaps he did not make it to Cyrene in time and died there.

Some have argued that Aristippus was in fact a sophist, and that the doctrine of Cyrenaics was developed by his disciples. For example, Aristotle in the Metaphysics directly classifies Aristippus as a sophist (Arist. Met. III 2. 996a37).

However, as the historian of philosophy K. Döring has shown, the sources preserved to date indicate: it was Aristippus who founded the school and, accordingly, developed the doctrine, which the disciples then only developed. Indeed, the philosophy of the Cyrenaicists is fundamentally different from the views of the Sophists.

It is more likely that Aristippus studied not only with Socrates, but also with one of the sophists. In this case everything is explained: he, as Diogenes Laerstsky writes from the testimony of Phenius of Ares, “engaged in sophistry” (σοφιστεύσας) (Diog. Laert. II 8), took fees from his students – in full accordance with the traditions of the sophists. It is quite possible that later, even before the organization of his school, he himself taught sophistry. Aristippus never suffered from modesty and austerity.

It was in his role as a professional paid teacher of philosophy – which was what the Sophists did – that Aristippus arrived in Syracuse at the court of Dionysius. It is not now known exactly whether he caught the older Dionysius, the younger one, or whether he philosophized during the reign of both.

Many historians believe that Socrates” disciples disliked Aristippus, but no specific information about this has survived. The negative attitude probably did take place as a consequence of the aversion to the philosophy fee, which Aristippus was not shy about doing. In addition, Plato, in the Phaedon, reports that Aristippus did not come to the death of Socrates, although he was not far from Athens at the time, on the island of Aegina (Plat. Phaed. 59c).

Plato himself reports this rather neutrally, but later on many, starting with Diogenes of Laertes (Diog. Laert. III 36), condemned the philosopher: he could have come to the death of his teacher. Here it is worth bearing in mind that Aristippus certainly would not have enjoyed it (i.e. would have had to go against his philosophy), and that he had treated Socrates with great respect all his life.

Aristippus” own commentary on this is contained in the Letters of the Socratics. Letter No. 16, “Aristippus to the Unknown:

“Concerning the last days of Socrates I and Cleombrotus have already received the news, and also that although Eleven gave him the opportunity to escape, he remained… It seems to me that, having been unlawfully imprisoned, he could have saved himself in any way. …You informed me that all the Socratic worshippers and philosophers left Athens, fearing that something similar might happen to you as well. And you did quite well. And so I too, having been saved, live to this day in Aegina; in the future I will come to you, and if we can do anything better, we will do it.

However, there is evidence that Aristippus was friends with Aeschinus Socraticus. Diogenes Laertes wrote that Plato refused to help Aeschines, who was in poverty at the time, and Aristippus helped him (Diog. Laert. III 36). There is also preserved evidence of their truly friendly relationship:

A little later, having quarreled with Aeschinus, he suggested: “Shall we not make up and cease our bickering, or do you wait until someone makes peace with us over a cup of wine?” – “I am ready,” said Aeschin. “Then remember that it was I who first went to meet you, though I am older than you.” “By Hera,” exclaimed Aeschinus, “you speak intelligently and behave far better than I do: for I have begun enmity, and you have begun friendship.” (Diog. Laert. II 82-83).

Philosophers and other authors often disagreed with Aristippus and condemned his way of life. His doctrine of pleasure conflicted with the philosophers” view that virtue is something exalted rather than “lowly. Aristippus was criticized by Theodore in his treatise “On the Schools,” by Plato in “Phaedon,” and by others. According to the literary tradition of the time, the polemic could take place indirectly, without mentioning names. For example, Plato”s criticism of the corresponding notions of pleasure in “Philebus” and Protagoras” skepticism in “Theaetetetes” are treated as an extramural polemic with Aristippus.

However, most of Aristippus” critics did not discuss his philosophy but condemned his desire for luxury and accused him of being unprincipled and conformist. For example, Timon of Fliuntus, in his satirical Silas, attributes to Aristippus a voluptuous nature, and the fourth-century B.C. comedian Alexides describes the philosopher as a rabid philosopher.

Opinions about Aristippus and descriptions of his actions abound. The problem, however, is that the authors of all these texts did not set themselves the task of accurately describing the philosopher”s biography in a historically accurate manner. They tried to create a vivid, illustrative image of the founder of the school, one might say – idealized. Thus, these accounts reflect the philosophy of Aristippus and show his character, but did not necessarily occur in reality. The most abundant evidence is found in Diogenes of Laertes.

Most of the information about Plato”s dislike of Aristippus is contained in just such doxographic accounts. In his turn, Aristippus reproached Plato for not presenting Socrates” ideas in good faith and even attributing to him ideas of his own invention: “Our friend would not have said anything like that” (Arist. Rhet. II 23. 1398b).

Information about the dislike of Aristippus by Antisphenes (the probable founder of the school of the Cynics) is available only in the Letters of the Socratics, which (except for two) have been found to be unreliable. The correspondence between Aristophanes and Aristippus is taken from a third-century papyrus, but, judging by stylistics and other features, the texts were written earlier than the first century. However, despite their doubtfulness, these letters reflect precisely a generalized view in terms of the philosophers” claims to Aristippus and his position on the matter.

8. Antisphenes to Aristippus:

Aristippus, for his part, as mentioned in the 10th-century Greek encyclopedia Suda (Σοῦδα, Α 3909), mocked Antisthenes” constant sullenness.

Xenophonte disliked Aristippus (Diog. Laert. II 65) so much that he included in his Memoirs of Socrates a dialogue he had invented in which he defends moderation and condemns Aristippus” “intemperance” on behalf of Socrates (Xen. Mem. II 1). On the other hand, in the same work, Xenophonte admits that in answer to the question “what is better to be, dominant or subordinate?” Aristippus rejects the dichotomy of choice and wisely answers that his philosophy is “the way not through power, not through slavery, but through freedom, which most surely leads to happiness” (Xen. Mem. III 8).

It is telling that even Aristippus” critics recognized that he led a life that was fully consistent with his philosophy, which deserved respect. And they even understood that pleasures – again, according to his teachings – had no power over him.

Therefore Straton (and according to others, Plato) said to him, “It is given to you alone to walk alike in mantle and in rags” (Diog. Laert. II 67).

Aristippus is not a social tramp who is willing to do anything to attain his pleasures, he is and always has been a philosopher. He is witty and always able to answer for his actions, resourceful and reasonable. Aristippus desires tranquility and a life of pleasure, so he can find the best side in everything. It is indicative that for all his secularism and communication with those in power he was careful to stay as far away from politics as possible in order to maintain his independence.Diogenes Laertes in his biography gives both positive and negative opinions about Aristippus, and from himself he writes

“He knew how to try on every place, time, or person, playing his part according to the whole setting … he extracted pleasure from what was available in that moment, and did not bother to seek pleasure in what was not available” (Diog. Laert. II 66).

The famous poet Quintus Horace Flaccus (1st century B.C.), unlike most who wrote about Aristippus, praised the philosopher and wrote about himself: “I am unnoticed again by the precepts of Aristippus: I am trying to subdue things, and not to be subdued by them” (Horatius Epist. I, A.D.). (Horat. Epist. I I).

Hear what Aristippo”s opinion is better; he is evil

No works by Aristippus have survived even in excerpts, and something can be said about them only by their known titles.

In the history of philosophy it has been fairly common opinion that Aristippus did not express his beliefs in a formulated form, and only his grandson Aristippus the Younger formed the doctrine. The idea probably came from Eusebius of Caesarea, who in his “Preparation for the Gospel” (XIV:XVIII) mentioned the opinion of Aristippus of Messena (late 1st century B.C. – early 1st century A.D.): Aristippus simply loved pleasure and said that happiness was essentially pleasure, but he did not formulate his views precisely. But since he talked all the time about pleasure, his admirers and followers assumed that he considered pleasure to be the purpose of life.

In modern times, however, historians of philosophy have concluded that it was Aristippus Sr. who began the systematic development of the doctrine. This is confirmed by the references to Aristippus” thoughts by Plato in his dialogue Philebus, by Aristotle in the Ethics, and by Speusippus, who wrote a separate work on Aristippus. At least some of the writings of which Aristippus is credited as the author were genuine, written by him. This is indirectly confirmed by the specific style of his writing, which differs from the Socratic dialogues and precepts common to philosophers of the time. His texts are characterized by a condemnatory connotation.

Already Diogenes of Laertes gives three opinions about the legacy of Aristippus. First, the generalized (“attributed”): three books of the Histories of Livia written for Dionysius, another book consisting of twenty-five dialogues, and an additional six diatribes. Second, Sosicrates of Rhodes and some others believe that he did not write at all. Thirdly, Sotion and Panethius list six works, overlapping in part with the first list, and speak of six diatribes, and three “Words” (four titles are given). (Diog. Laert. II 83-85). The historian himself held that the writings of Aristippus took place because he did not include him in his list of philosophers who wrote nothing in principle (D. L. I 16).

The ancient Greek historian Theopompus of Chios, who lived in IV B.C. (i.e. a contemporary of the philosopher), according to Athenaeus (Athen. Deipn. XI 508c), believes that Plato was engaged in plagiarizing the diatribes of Aristippus: “It is easy to notice that most of his dialogues are useless and false, and very many are copied from others: some are from the diatribes of Aristippus….”. The accusation is due to Theopompus” dislike of Plato, but the quote means that Aristippus had written works.

In modern times it is believed that Aristippus did write conversations (διατριβαί) resembling Socratic dialogues, in which he argued with the opinions of Plato. This is proved by the testimony of Epicurus, who wrote of his acquaintance with these dialogues. It may be that Aristippus owns a passage of text on a Cologne papyrus published in 1985 in which the concept “pleasure is the best goal of life, and suffering the worst” is promoted on behalf of Socrates. However, the authorship may belong to Hegesius.

Diogenes of Laertes mentions many times the text “On the luxury of the ancients” by Aristippus (IV 19), but the authorship is extremely doubtful. The author of this pseudepigrapha described the views and life of the philosopher on his behalf. It is likely that most of the other works which doxographers attribute to Aristippus are also forgeries of this kind.

There are also extremely strange references to the probable writings of Aristippus. For example, Diogenes of Laertes points out that he said that Pythagoras got his nickname (translated as “persuasive by speech”) because he proclaimed the truth no worse than Apollo of Pythia (Diog. Laert. VIII 21). But Aristippus did not recognize the natural sciences – why would he write a treatise on physics?

An even stranger statement was made by the 13th century Arab historian Jamal al-Din Abul-Hassan Ali ibn Yusuf ibn Ibrahim ash-Shaybani al-Kifti. Speaking of Aristippus, he mentions only two of his works, notably in the field of mathematics (Ibn Al-Quifti, Historia de los sabios, 70.15) – “On Computing Operations” and “On Numerical Division,” which contradicts logic: Aristippus did not recognize mathematics as useful in any way. And while the title “On Physics” may have been a statement of a philosophical position denying its usefulness, in this case the titles point specifically to mathematical treatises.

Aristippus is the founder of the Cyrenaic school of philosophy, but there are individual differences as well. Here we note the most important.

Cognition is based on perceptions alone, the causes of which, however, are unknowable. The perceptions of others are also inaccessible to us, and we can only base our knowledge on their statements.

Hedonism is understood by many as the unrestrained pursuit of pleasure, but Aristippus teaches: it is not pleasure itself that is unhappy, but the enslavement of man by it. Therefore “the best lot is not to abstain from pleasures, but to have dominion over them without submitting to them” (Diog. Laert. II 75). Philosophy, however, is not so much about abstract pleasures as it is about the ability and even the art of living freely – and in such a way that life brings pleasure. Aristippus” hedonism is not confined to momentary pleasure, ignoring the consequences: for example, he considers it wrong to act in a way that then brings more displeasure than original pleasure. From this follows the importance of obedience to custom and law.

Eudemonia in Aristippus is not a concomitant phenomenon in the discovery of ability, as Socrates understood it, but a consciousness of self-control in pleasure: the wise man enjoys pleasure without giving in to it taking possession of him. One should not lament the past or fear the future. In thinking, as in acting, we should give importance only to the present. It is the only thing we can freely dispose of.

On the one hand, Aristippus condemned ignorance (Diog. L. II 69-72), and even understood the difference between knowledge (with insight) and erudition: “a scholar is not one who reads much, but one who reads usefully”. On the other hand, the philosopher denied the usefulness of all sciences, because they do not deal with ethical issues, do not help to distinguish good from bad. In this he went so far as to reject mathematics (Arist. Met. 996a32 ff.), and generally thought the study of nature to be impossible, and therefore useless.

After Socrates” death, Aristippus traveled and “worked as a philosopher” for many wealthy patrons. Xenophonte, in his Memoirs of Socrates, says on behalf of Aristippus: “I do not even include myself as a citizen: I am everywhere a foreigner (ξένος πανταχοῦ εἰμι)” (Xen. Mem. II 1. 13). At the same time the philosopher, in spite of his love of pleasures, was not attached to things and goods, believing that possessions are burdensome if one becomes attached to them. To his friends he advised to have as many things as can be saved by taking them with him in a shipwreck.

An important feature of Aristippus” views is the departure from traditional society, in which people were clearly divided into two strata: the power and the subaltern, the plebs. The philosopher, however, pointed to the possibility of becoming outside this system: not being confined to a single polis and yet belonging neither to the powers that be nor to the subaltern majority. It is clear that participation in politics does not correspond to the concept of enjoying life as a process.

Xenophonte, in his Memoirs of Socrates, cites a lengthy dialogue between Socrates and Aristippus (Memor. II 1) – hardly based on a real conversation, but conveying the positions of the philosophers. Socrates attempts to persuade Cyrenaicus of the necessity for a life of moderation by raising a man fit for power: he should abstain from pleasure and be able to bear suffering. Aristippus agrees with this approach, but says about himself that he would not wish to become a ruler for this very reason: “States believe that rulers should grant them as many goods as possible, while they should abstain from all of them.

Probably because of his love of delicacies, Aristippus himself was a skilled cook. Lucianus of Samosata in the “Sale of Lives” writes that the philosopher was a connoisseur of baking and generally an experienced cook (Vit. auct. 12), and in the “Parasite” he mentions that the tyrant Dionysius sent his cooks to Aristippus every day to learn to cook (Paras. 33). Alexides, in his work “Athenaeus” (ap. Athen. XII p. 544e), sarcastically remarks that a certain pupil of Aristippus had not progressed much in his understanding of philosophy, but had become skilled in adding spices.

Diogenes of Laertes cites a number of Aristippus” sayings.


  1. Аристипп
  2. Aristippus