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What is hedonism?

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Quick Answer

The word hedonism refers to a group of theories that focus on what is good for people, how they ought to act and what motivates people to perform certain actions. These theories have in common their identification of pain and pleasure as the sole significant factors in human decision making.

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Full Answer

The word hedonism comes from the Greek term "hedone," which means pleasure. Its earliest mention is in the Carvaka, an Indian philosophical tradition. The two theories this tradition advocated were hedonistic egoism and skepticism.

People who claim to be philosophical hedonists tend to focus on the value of well-being, or leading a good life. When it comes to value, pleasure is the only source of worth, and the only thing devoid of worth is pain. These two concepts generally have a broad definition, including both intellectual and physical phenomena. This means that a massage and a happy memory are both sources of pleasure, while shutting one's finger in the car door and learning about a deceased friend are both causes of pain.

With this in mind, hedonism serves as a theory of what brings value. One sign that this theoretical approach is valuable is its universal presence in considerations of well-being throughout history. However, many discussions about hedonism deride it for attending to pleasure over other considerations.

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