Comprehensive Essay on Egoistic Hedonism

Ethical Hedonism may assume two forms, viz., Egoistic and Altruistic. According to Egoistic Hedonism, the pleasure of the individual is the moral standard. According to Altruistic Hedonism, the greatest happiness of the greatest number or general happiness is the moral standard. Egoistic Hedonism, again, may be of two types; such as; gross and refined.

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Gross Egoistic Hedonism :

According to this doctrine, all pleasure are alike in kind they differ only in intensity or degree; there is no qualitative difference among them. The pleasures of the body are preferable to those of the soul, because the former are more intense than the later. To sacrifice the present to the future is foolish. The past is gone for ever and will never return. The future is uncertain and doubtful. Only the present is certain. Let not a moment, fly without packing it with the most intense pleasure. Therefore a careless surrender to present momentary pleasures of the senses is the true rule of life.


Aristippus, the founder of the Cyrenaic School, was a sensualist Sophist before joining Socrates. He was an advocate of psychological hedonism and regarded the desire for pleasure as the sole motive of our actions. He showed the influence of Socrates in advocating moderation in the enjoyment of pleasure by over coming the allurements of sense and controlling the gross instincts of our nature. Here cognized the superiority of mental pleasures such as friendship, paternal and filial love, art and literature over fleeting sensuous feelings. He gave preference to a permanent state of moral content over transitory pleasures. Thus he paved the way of epicures. Some Grenaics regarded momentary bodity pleasures as the highest good; others regarded permanent pleasure or happiness as the highest good.

Thomas Hobbes was an advocate of materialism, egoism and hedonism. According to him, soul is brain-action or nervous substance, which is governed by appetites, instincts, emotions and passions. It is subject to the law of necessity and devoid of freedom of the will.

Man naturally seeks only what pleases him and avoids what gives him pain. Desire for pleasure and aversion to pain are the principal motives. Man pursues his own pleasure, he is entirely selfish. Thus egoistic hedonism is implied in his theory. Benevolence, sympathy and compassion are not truly altruistic emotions, but self-love in disguise. But man seeks more power over other than his pleasure.

Hobbes did not stress one’s own pleasure as the result of the satisfaction of one’s egoistic impulses. He emphasized the law of the state to which man’s egoistic impulses should be subjected. Men were at first in a state of nature, constantly quarreling with one another for their advantage over others. The law of the state curbed their natural egoistic impulses, and regulated them and made social life possible. Thus Hobes was an advocate of modified egoistic hedonism. He regarded an individual’s own pleasure and power curbed by the law of the state as the moral standard.


Mandeville and Helvetius, like Hobbes, regarded self-interest as the sole and right motive of our actions. They were advocates of egoistic hedonism. Mandeville considered self-love to be the only virtue and reduced, love and hate to modes of self-love. Holvetius also considered love and friendship to be based on selflove and regarded one’s own happiness as the highest good-happiness being the greatest amount of bodily pleasure.

Refined Egoistic Hedonism :

According to Epicurus, reason has an important place in our moral life. It is the proper guide for the attainment of true happiness. Momentary bodily pleasures are not the highest good. But a happy life as a whole is the greatest good. Thus Epricurus differed from the Cyrenaics. Pleasures differ in intensity and duration. They should be measured by both. Reason is handmaid of passions. Sensibility gives us the end of life; but reason gives us the means of realizing it. It tells us how to eliminate pain as much as possible, and attain the maximum amount of pleasure in one’s own life. Epicurus is an advocate of refine egoistic hedonism.

By pleasure the Epicugreans mean the absence of pain from the body and of trouble from the soul; pleasure is the negation of pain. The great maxim of Epicurean life is that we should cultivate a temper of indifference to pleasure and pain, a tranquillity of the sould with cannot be disturbed by the assaults of fortune. The end of life is rather a state of indifference, of neutral feeling, of insensibility, than a positive state of feeling or enjoyment.


Epicurus gives pre-eminence to the intellectual pleasures over the physical pleasures because of their comparative freedom from pain and greater durability, though he does not distinctly recognize the qualitative superiority of the former over the latter as J.S. Mill did later. Epicurus regards prudence, temperance, and fortitude as great virtues.

Criticism of Egoistic Hedonism :

(i) Egoistic Hedonism is based on psychological hedonism and vitiated by, its defects.

(ii) Hobbes told that man is naturally egoistic, and that all the higher emotions and springs of action are modes of self-love. But we live more for the sake of others than for our own. Self-sacrifice is no less primordial than self-preservation. Altrustic emotions can never be evolved from egoistic feeling. Egoism and altruism both are rooted in human nature. Egoism is based on egoistic instincts. Altruism is based on altruistic instincts.

(iii) Egoistic Hedonism can never supply us with a uniform standard of morality. What is pleasurable to one may be painful to another. If pleasure constitutes rightness and pain constitutes wrongness, then the moral standard is not uniform. Thus morality which is regarded by all as uniform is abolished.

(iv) Egoistic Hedonism requires us to calculate the comparative values of pleasures. But this is extremely difficult. Subjective feelings cannot be quantitatively measured. Moreover, they depend on variation in mood, temperament and circumstances, I and thus make the hedonistic calculus impracticable. M

(v) Gross or Sensualistic egoism is properly speaking no moral theory at all. The gratification of hunger, thirst, sex and other bodily appetites cannot constitute the highest good. Man is a . rational being. His happiness depends more on national self restraint them on the gratification of appetites. Gross egoistic hedonism substitutes license for morality. Even Aristippus advocated moderation in indulgence and intelligent control of vulgar instincts.

(vi) The Refined Egoism of Epicurus is undoubtedly more reflective than the sensualistic egoism of Aristippus, because it recognizes l. the function of reason in moral life, and because it does not regard momentary pleasure but happy life as the highest good. If But according to it, felicity consists not so such inpositive pleasure as in freedom from pain. It regards pleasure as negative feeling or absence of pain- Hence it does not encourage active life but rather an inactive life free from pain. It forgets that morality consists in activity rather than in painless inactive life. It lays more stress on the calmness of mind due to the reduction of desires and indifference to pleasures and pains, than on the active pursuit of the good. Moreover, egoistic happiness cannot be the highest good of man. Egoism cannot satisfy the altruistic instinct.

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