History of Philosophy and Christian Thought - Lesson 21


Hedonism emphasized pleasure as the greatest good. "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we might be dead."

Ronald Nash
History of Philosophy and Christian Thought
Lesson 21
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Hellenistic Philosophy

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III. Hedonism

A. Cyrenaics

1. Pleasure is the greatest good.

2. Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we might be dead.

B. Epicureans

1. If pleasure is the greatest good, then pain is the greatest evil.

2. Pleasures differ only in quantity.

3. Pleasures differ in duration and intensity.

4. There is a distinction between pleasures of the body and pleasures of the mind.

C. Overindulgence in the pleasures of the body always produces pain.

D. Any enjoyment of physical pleasure presupposes pain.

E. Epicurus' Response

1. Live the simple life.

2. Everything in moderation.

F. Aristotle's Response

1. Pleasure is not the sum total of life, happiness is.

2. The single-minded pursuit of pleasure is always self-defeating.

  • Thales and Anaximander were two philosophers in the sixth century BC that lived in Miletus.

  • Heraclitus and Pythagoras lived into the 5th century BC.

  • Any worldview addresses the subjects of God, ultimate reality, human knowledge, ethics and human persons.

  • Fundamental beliefs of a naturalistic worldview is that nothing exists outside the physical universe and that all things evolved.

  • Plato was a student of Socrates and lived into the fourth century BC. He opposed hedonism, empiricism, relativism, materialism, atheism and naturalism.

  • Plato described the universe as having three levels: the world of particulars, the world of forms, and the form of the good.

  • Plato's view of the universe was dualistic.

  • One of Plato's fundamental arguments is that the human soul is immortal.

  • Evaluation of Plato's arguments and comparison of Plato's philosophy with biblical theology.

  • Empiricism teaches that all human knowledge arises from sense experience. Rationalism teaches that some human knowledge does not arise from sense. experience

  • Aristotle was a student of Plato and lived in the fourth century BC.

  • Aristotle rejected Plato's doctrine of two worlds.

  • Discussion of Aristotelian philosophy as it relates to the incarnation.

  • Aristotle's philosophy as it relates to attributes of God and fundamental assumptions about psychology.

  • Aristotle made a distinction between passive intellect and active intellect.

  • Discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the law of non-contradiction.

  • Discussion of the nature and substance of matter.

  • Hellenistic philosophy was an approach that was popular from the fourth century BC to the fifth century AD.

  • Stoics were determinists who believed in living according to nature.

  • Hedonism emphasized pleasure as the greatest good. "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we might be dead."

  • Philo's philosophy was based on a synthesis of Stoicism and Platonism.

  • Implicit "Logos" Christianity is an underlying theme in the book of Hebrews.

  • Plotinus lived in the third century AD and is considered the founder of Neoplatonism.

  • Augustine is a Latin church father, is considered by many to be one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity.

  • Augustine wrote Confessions as an autobiographical work to record his experience as a sinful youth and his experience becoming a follower of Christ.

  • Augustine wrote to refute some heresies of the day by focusing on the concepts of faith and reason.

  • Augustine writes about the problem of evil and describes evil as the absence of good.

  • Augustine writes to refute Pelagianism by focusing on the biblical teaching about sin.

  • Augustine writes to refute Donatism.

  • The fundamental idea of skepticism is that no one can know anything. Augustine this statement contradicts itself because the skeptic is claiming that you can know that you can't know anything.

  • When Augustine wrote "The City of God," he had a linear view of history.

  • In Augustine's theory of knowledge, he says that eternal reason and human reason are two different levels of reason.

  • Augustine was personally convinced of the importance of divine illumination.

  • The intellectual background of Thomas Aquinas was influenced by the discovery of ancient manuscripts, the rise of universities, the rise of religious brotherhoods and the rise of Muslim philosophy.

  • Aquinas describes faith as whatever a human can know through special revelation, and reason as whatever a human can know outside of special revelation.

  • Aquinas attempts to prove God's existence.

  • Aquinas describes four kinds of law as eternal, divine, natural and positive.

  • The rationalists and empiricists set the stage for Kant and other philosophers of the modern era.

  • Kant argued that moral requirements are based on a standard of rationality he dubbed the “Categorical Imperative."

  • Kants two worlds are the phenomenal world and the noumenal world.

  • Discussion of criticisms and questions about Kant's ideas.

  • Similarities between Kant's ideas and postmodernism.

  • The dialectic is a central idea in Hegel's philosophy.

  • Ideally, Marxism begins with class struggle, then revolution, dictatorship of the proletariat, withering away of the state, and a utopian classless society.

  • Discussion of four faces of Marxism.

  • Nietzsche proclaimed that, "God is dead." His cure was to live life knowing there is no ultimate meaning. Kierkegaard emphasized a worldview based on true faith.

In this class, you will explore the rich history of philosophy and its relationship with Christian thought. The course begins with an introduction to the definition and importance of philosophy in Christian theology. You will then delve into the evolution of philosophical thought from the Pre-Socratic era, through the Classical Greek philosophers, and into the Hellenistic period. As you progress, you will discover how early Christian thought emerged and developed during the Patristic period, with a special focus on Augustine. The class continues with an examination of medieval Christian thinkers, such as Anselm and Thomas Aquinas, and concludes with an analysis of modern philosophers like Descartes, Kant, and Kierkegaard, and their influence on contemporary Christian thought.

Dr. Ronald Nash

History of Philosophy and Christian Thought



Lesson Transcript


Now a little bit about Epicureanism. The Syrian Hayek's were contemporaries of Socrates. They, like the cynics, were a rather unimportant and unimpressive group. You can't really call. How could you call any of the cynics philosophers? All right. They were just dirty old man. That's all they were. You know, for them getting up in the morning meant going through another day without a bath or a haircut. I mean, that's they weren't real philosophers. The Syrian chicks weren't really philosophers either. They were hedonists. Now, let me describe hedonism. Hedonism is the the ethical belief that pleasure is the highest good. When I first started doing this in my life, I used to say that hedonism was the moral philosophy of the average college sophomore. I remember those days. But today, you know, or at least a couple of years ago, I had to change my analogy. Hedonism is the moral philosophy of the average high school sophomore right now, and it may be even worse than that in certain parts of America. Probably it's down to the eighth grade or or so. Now, the life motto of the Saranac was this Eat, drink and be merry. For tomorrow, we may be dead. Now some of you are saying, hey, wait a minute, that's not right. This motto that we should eat, drink and be merry was an epicurean motto, to which my response is, No, you're wrong. The essence of Epicureanism. Get this in your notes. The essence of Epicureanism was to find an alternative to share analysis. Epicurus was a hedonist, but he was not a hedonist of the same stripe as the Syrian Alex.


[00:02:51] A little parenthesis whenever I have an opportunity to lecture two high school age kids and I do lecture to a lot of high school kids every summer in Colorado Springs, if I have a chance to talk about ethics, I give them an alternative to to to the Sierra neck way of life. And one of the nice things when you know about Epicurus, I mean, if you're a youth leader, you can get up and say, Hey, kids, we're going to talk about hedonism tonight and I'm going to talk to you about the founder of Hedonism. And what's nice here is you can really use Epicurus ideas to defeat the moral philosophy of the average high school sophomore. Okay. And I want to show you how to do that. What? Epicurus? Let me. Let me write the basic ideas of Epicurus on the board. And you can get the rest of these from whatever chapter it is in your textbook, Chapter 16 or 17. Epicurus makes these points. If pleasure is the highest good then. And I'm only going to write a blank here, then blank is the greatest evil. Now, don't utter a word there. Don't utter a word. I want somebody who has not read my chapter to tell me what word fills that blank for Epicurus. People in the back of the audience said, Pain is the greatest evil. Am I or am I not a great teacher? See, I just lead you to the water and you gobble it up. See in that. Great. But isn't Epicurus right? What a typical shallow hedonist want? They want all the pleasure they can get. And I'm kind of walking around here like an £800 gorilla, you know, as though these people live like monkeys. You know, they want the greatest amount of pleasure they can get.


[00:05:02] But here's what Epicurus said. What kind of a dumbbell gives his heart and soul to seeking pleasure when what he gets in the long run is just more pain? Epicurus said, Let's be hedonistic, but let's not be stupid hedonists. Does that make sense? I think it does. Okay. Pain is the greatest evil. Therefore, if you're a hedonist, you should be as concerned about getting pleasure. Maybe you should be more concerned about avoiding pain. Next point Pleasures differ only in quantity. Now that pleasures differ. Only in quantity. Now, all hedonists believe that Well, with the exception of John Stuart Mill, whom I talk about near the end of that chapter. However, even though pleasures differ only in quantity, now we come to point three pleasures do differ. This is consistent with point to pleasures differ in duration and intensity. Now, a little reflection here. Well, some pleasures are stronger than others, right? Some pleasures are very wimpy. I got a modest amount of pleasure out of watching. I never thought I'd say this. Randy Johnson pitch a three hit shutout. But as long as he's pitching it against the New York Yankees, I get pleasure from that for some reason. Now, you may you know, some of you may be discovering for the first time that you don't like me, but I'm sorry. All right. Yankees, No one no one in New York City will listen to my tapes. But it was my old pleasure. Now, if you want to really crank up that plunger, replace that wimpy team with the Indians. Now, that would have given me real pleasure. So pleasures differ in intensity and duration. There's a distinction between the pleasures of the body and the pleasures of the mind. Now, it's very hard to get any Americans to realize that there is such a thing as mental pleasure because you can't experience measure of mental pleasure unless you think you've got to use your mind at least once in a while in order to experience mental pleasure.


[00:07:39] Now, Epicurus says, the pleasures of the body are stronger than the pleasures of the mind. They really are. The pleasures of the mind are less intense than the pleasures of the body. However, the pleasures of the body are very fleeting. They're here and then they're gone. To give you a kind of a trivial example. Think of, you know, suppose you're home for Thanksgiving and your mother is making, you know, one of her absolutely superb Thanksgiving dinners. And you probably can't even sleep the night before because you're you're already anticipating that turkey in those gravy, that gravy and that stuffing. Wow. Yeah. And that pumpkin pie. Hmm. Oh. Those of you who are not from America go somewhere for Thanksgiving dinner. All right. And let's hope it's a good Don't go to IHOP for Thanksgiving. That's the International House of Pancakes. That will give no one pleasure. Don't go there. All right. Some of you take our foreign students and invite them to your place for. Right. Let them. Let them know what a good Thanksgiving dinner tastes like before they die. Okay. But once that last bit of food has clumped to the bottom of your stomach, you know what? The pleasure is over. In fact, you may be experiencing pain by the time you get to 4:00. Thanks. I know when I was in when I was in my first college, we had a we had a cook who made really? I have never tasted spaghetti as good as she used to make. And there were three or four of us who lived on the same dorm floor and we used to pig out. I mean, it was bad. So that even though everybody else had left the dining room by 1:00, we were still there at 130 pig an out, you know, And then we decided it was time to get up and we could hardly stand.


[00:09:50] And in order to get to our dorm room, we had to climb three flights of stairs. And we almost didn't make it. And we were we were out of sync for the rest of the real pain. Real pain. That's one of the problems here over indulgence. Let's put that on the board. Over indulgence. You know what that word means? It means you eat too much. You overdo it. Overindulgence in bodily pleasure always produces pain. There's a movie out there. It's been playing around quite a bit on television called Cool Hand Luke. Cool Hand Luke is not. A Christian. Nor is anybody else in the southern prison that he's in. All right. But he makes a bet that he can eat how many hard boiled eggs and so many minutes, some 50 hard boiled eggs. And how much time? In an hour. All right. Now, ladies, this will. This will sicken you, so you might want to close your ears. All right. But these guys will eat this up. That's a bad metaphor here, right? Bad. I'm a bad dude. I'm a bad dude. So that first hard boiled egg, it went down. All right. Okay. He had no mayonnaise to go with it either. It's just the hard boiled egg. All right. And the guys are cracking the eggs and cool hand Luke. Until finally he gets around 25 or 26 eggs and there shoving it down his throat. And by the time he, you know, you really. You want to leave the room there for a while because you're not feeling very good yourself and you're not the guy with the 30 eggs in your stomach. Overindulgence in the pleasures of the body always causes pain. You want to know what's what else is wrong with the pleasures of the body? Any enjoyment of the pleasures of the body presupposes pain.


[00:11:51] Any enjoyment of physical pleasure presupposes pain. You cannot enjoy the pleasures of food unless you're hungry. Once you're no longer hungry, forget the pleasures of eating. You've got to be hungry. But hunger is a kind of pain. If you don't think it's pain, just allow it to go on satisfied long enough and you'll be in real pain. Enjoyment of drinking. You can't enjoy the pleasures of drinking. I'm going to take a drink of ice cold water from my Cleveland Indians mug. And envy me as I do this. All right? Just watch me. Oh, is that good stuff? Just simple H2O. Who would want to mess that up with With coke? All right. Now I want you to imagine a college freshman at homecoming. This is not an art. Yes, this is a band home, University of Central Florida, Gainesville. And this guy decides that during the homecoming weekend, he's going to send a set of Guinness Book of Records on experiencing units of pleasure. And we will not discuss what this guy does. I mean, we're not going to talk about what he does. But let's and he's not going to go to sleep during homecoming weekend. So let's say by midnight Friday, he has experienced 300 units of pleasure. That's by midnight. Okay. Then by 6 a.m., he's down. The total is 325. Because, you see, it's you talk about the law of diminishing returns. And this is Saturday. And let's say by 6 p.m. Saturday, he's up to 330. He's wearing down here. Okay, Now let's come up to 8 a.m. Monday. And he has my philosophy course he's got to go to and he's had a bad night and he gets up and he's got a big headache. He's got Excedrin Headache number 35.


[00:14:09] It's like two bull goats ramming each other. And he knows he wants to go to the bathroom, but he wants to go to the bathroom to vomit, see? So he's crawling across the floor and all every time. Every time he's crawling, he's saying, Boy, did I have a lot of pleasure. And then he's he's he's vomiting as he's crawling, see? So he's why he's I know this is a sickening picture, but this is hedonism we're talking about by the time we get to 10 a.m. and this fellow walks into my philosophy class, he has already experienced 500 units of pain. And just wait till he hits the age of 45. All right. The hedonistic life produces more pain than pleasure. Now I'm going to talk about a relative of mine, and I think Eddie would want me to do this if he had any say, because he's been dead now for 30 years. My uncle lived a hedonistic life, and when I last saw him and the last time I drove my father over to the mental institution, he was 55 years old. He was in a wheelchair because he couldn't use his legs. His mind was gone. His lungs were gone. His colon was gone. His liver was gone. And in about three or four days, he was gone. Eddie didn't talk to me about all of the pleasure he had experienced from Cigarets and the liquor and all of the other stuff His wife and children had left him ten years before. He lives. He's buried in a pauper's grave. Here's here's the point we're getting at the siren. I want you to think only about the next moment. The siren? I don't want you to think about the future. But Epicurus said it isn't true that you should eat, drink and be merry.


[00:16:12] For tomorrow. You may die because the odds are you're still going to be alive tomorrow. And if you make bad ethical choices in your life, you're going to spend the last years of your life in terrible pain. You fools. So here's Epicurus. His answer. If you're a good hedonist, live the simple life. Live the life of moderation. But Epicurus is not necessarily an enemy of Christian moderation. If if if Epicurus were giving a lecture to a group of young ladies, he would say, Get them to a nunnery. Become a nun. Now, he didn't know about nuns back then, but he would, in other words, live a life of moderation. Don't overdo it. Live. Enjoy the pleasures of the body in moderation, but focus on the pleasures of the mind. The pleasures of the mind. The pleasures that you come from. Great art, great beauty, great music, which hasn't been heard in our country for 40 years. Okay. And lots of other things. Aristotle said that hedonists make two mistakes. First of all, the hedonist thinks that pleasure is the sum total of the good life. That's wrong. Aristotle said, I'm not going to. This is in your book, and I'm not going to write it on the board. Aristotle said pleasure is an important part of life, but that's all it is. It's a part of life. There's more to life than just pleasure. What we should regard as the highest good Aristotle said, is not pleasure. But it is you damn only. Now, what is that? That the word there is happiness. Happiness? And Aristotle says there are lots of things that constitute happiness. It helps to have a little money. It helps to have a little security in life. It helps to have a little pleasure.


[00:18:17] But happiness is not identical with any of those things. They're just a part of it. They make a contribution. Now, the second point that Aristotle made was this and here I can write this on the board. Here it is. The single minded. The single minded pursuit of pleasure is always self-defeating. The single minded pursuit of pleasure is always self-defeating. Aristotle had a name for this. He called it the Paradox of Hedonism. Here's another way to put it. The more you seek pleasure, the less pleasure you're going to get. The best way to get pleasure is to forget, pleasure and lose yourself in other activities. Let me invite you to think back to your teenage years, all right? Maybe even your teenage years before you were a Christian. Was there ever some upcoming event to which you looked forward with such anticipation? And here we're not thinking about anything that's immoral or anything. It was just it was just going to be you know, you said this is going to be the highlight of my life. Biggest disappointment. Amen. Oh, what a disaster. What's the worst day of your life? Right. Imagine a football player. Football player. All right, Bubba. I'm thinking of a football player at Western Kentucky University. And remember, they all called me Coach. All right. I was coach. Come out of the food line in the cafeteria. The guy's carrying three trays of food. And this is just. This is just an appetizer. See? And I'd sit down and I'd say, Bubba, do you get pleasure out of eating this much food? He says, I don't I'm not interested in food. I don't care what I eat. I just want pleasure. And I say, Well, Bubba, have you read any good books? He says, What's a book? What's a book do you go to? You've seen a good movies lately.


[00:20:18] What's a movie? Listen, man, I just live for pleasure and nothing else. There's an example of a guy who will never experience pleasure. You only get pleasure by losing yourself in other activities. It's Aristotle, right? Same man if you think he's right. All the Baptists have just said Amen. All three of you. You people have a whole lot of living to do yet. All right. The way to get pleasure. Let's have a child. Why? Because that baby's going to bring us a whole lot of pleasure. Really? Yeah, I think about that every time you slosh the diapers in the toilet. All right. Now, I know you guys don't do that anymore, but I had my children at a time when. That's how you clean the diapers, all right? And I remember saying what a lot of pleasure this is. We should have done this sooner. No, you forget pleasure and then you're with the kids or the grandkids and they leave and you say, Boy, that was great, but you don't get pleasure when that's what you're seeking.