Happiness and Pleasure in European Thought
The Hellenistic Era
Hellenistic thinkers agree with Aristotle that eudaimonia is the final end for humans but differ in their description of what happiness consists. The broadest school of Hellenistic philosophy, the Stoics, held that happiness consisted in a disposition to restrict one's will and achieve a state of ataraxia, or tranquility. This means that one must reduce one's desires as nearly as possible to those that can be satisfied autonomously; these turn out to be largely internally regulated. Maintaining ataraxia against external vicissitudes allows impassivity in the face of changing fortune and an eudaimonistic life. Eudaimonia for the Stoics was similar in this sense to the beliefs of classical thinkers: it held that happiness was a way in which one lived as opposed to a subjective emotional state.
One notable exception in Hellenistic thinking on happiness is Epicurean philosophy. While the Epicureans held similar views on the place of happiness in a human life, their views on what happiness was came closest in the ancient world to hedonic conceptions of happiness. But there is an important distinction to be kept in mind in making this comparison. While Epicurus (341–270 B.C.E.) held that happiness consisted in staving off unpleasant sensations, he said one does this by keeping one's needs simple and easily satisfied. The reason for this was that Epicurus held that pleasures are largely products of the mind, and that consequently people can find greater pleasure through the mind than by pursuing things that most people mistakenly believe to be greater pleasures.
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