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From A Cyclopedia of Education, edited by Paul Monroe, Ph.D. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1911, vol. III, pp. 242-3).
- John Dewey (Ph.D. LL.D., Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University)
(ηδονη, pleasure). — A term used to denote theories that make pleasure either the end, or the standard of intentional or conscious activity, moral behavior included. The ancient and the modern theories grouped under that name are, however, more widely different from each other than their common name would indicate. Ancient hedonism is associated with Epicureanism. Its chief motivation was revolt, on the one hand, against the moral theories which made virtue consist in fitting into the existing social order by performing the duties appropriate to the status in which a person found himself; and, on the other hand, against the theories which gave morals a purely rationalistic cast, basis, and aim. As against the first, Epicurean hedonism taught the advisability of abstinence, as far as possible, from civic life, and the cultivation of voluntary associations based on congeniality and friendship. As against the second, it emphasized the importance of the feelings, and of cultivating the various types of enjoyment naturally accessible to the individual. Contrary to the usual belief, it taught not surrender to appetite, but moderation of desire, on the ground that excessive desire was fatal to happiness. Ancient, like modern, hedonism was naturalistic in tone; but here again the motive was different, ancient hedonism being convinced that supernaturalism tended to fear of death and of the intervention of the gods, and hence was detrimental to a life of serenity and contentment.
Modern hedonism, in its influential forms, has been associated with an empirical philosophy and with utilitarianism. Its chief object has been to set up a concrete standard for measuring the worth of acts; their consequences in the way of pleasures and pains produced. Its interest was not in outlining an agreeable mode of life, remote from strife and disturbance, but the discovery of a scientific mode of estimating right and wrong methods of action. Of the conscious search for pleasure it has made little, generally holding, in fact, that happiness is best attained when not consciously aimed at — the so-called hedonistic paradox. In its most important representatives — as Bentham and the Mills - it has been more interested in the development of methods for judging the effects of legislation and administration, civil and penal, by tracing their effect among the pleasures produced and the pains entailed upon the masses affected by them, than in elaborating a code for right action in private life.
As a moral system, hedonism has had little direct influence upon educational theory or practice. Matters of pleasure and pain are, however, so closely connected with the motivation of conduct that it would not be difficult to trace an implicit hedonism in the use made of rewards promised and punishments threatened as motives to studious behavior. Asceticism, moreover, is a kind of inverted hedonism; involving the notion that man is so naturally prone to pleasure-seeking that the agreeable must be shunned as a temptation to evil. Ascetic notions underlie many educational ideas and procedures, especially those that cluster about the notion that there is something disciplinary and moralizing in tasks and exercises in the degree in which they are disagreeable (see Formal discipline).
- Alexander, S. Moral Order and Progress, (London,
- Bain, A. Emotion and Will. (London, 1875.)
- Dewey, J., and Tufts, J. H. Ethics. (New York, 1908.)
- Green, T. Prolegomena to Ethics. (Oxford, 1889.) .
- James, W. Principles of Psychology. (New York, 1899.)
- Mackenzie, J. S. Manual of Ethics. (London, 1900.)
- Pater, W. Marius the Epicurean.
- Plato. Gorgias.
- Rickaby, J. Moral Philosophy. (London, 1888.)
- Sidgwick, H. History of Ethics. (London, 1896.)
— Methods of Ethics. (London, 1901.)
- Watson, J. Hedonistic Theories from Aristippus to Spencer. (Glasgow, 1895.)
- See also Baldwin, J. M. Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, Vol. III,. pt. II, pp. 899-901, for articles in current magazines.