The life and philosophy of Aristippus in the Socratic epistles

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The pseudonymous letters of Aristippus imagine their ostensible author’s point of view on the events and decisions of his life, and thus constitute life-writing. By coincidence, some historians of philosophy have argued there is nothing to Aristippus’ ethics other than the way he lives his life; he is a Lebenskunstler rather than a Wissenschaftler. In this chapter I try to nuance this distinction, arguing that these letters exemplify how Aristippean Lebenskunst lends itself to discursive theorizing. In fact, such a life can inspire multiple theories, depending on whether we approach it from moral psychology, philosophies of irony and humor, or the literary-historical contexts of their production. I experiment with each of these three approaches without attempting to reconcile them. The philosophical interest of this material, I conclude, lies in its ability to motivate such diverse interpretations.
Translated title of the contributionThe Life of Aristippus in the Socratic Epistles
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCreative Lives in Classical Antiquity
Subtitle of host publicationPoets, Artists, and Biography
EditorsJohanna Hanink, Richard Fletcher
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781316670651
ISBN (Print)9781107159082
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016

Structured keywords

  • Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition


  • Aristippus
  • Cyrenaic
  • Cyrenaicism
  • hedonism
  • epistolography
  • Socratic Epistles
  • humour
  • irony


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  • Creative Lives

    Kurt W Lampe (Invited speaker)

    27 May 2010

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

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