Thursday, May 03, 2007


Here's a philosopher who ought to be better known: Hegesias the Cyrenaic, sometimes nick-named the 'Death Persuader' because of his general pessimism and unfortunate habit of convincing people that there is no point to living. It is said that he was so persuasive when talking about this topic that he was banned from speaking in public by Ptolemy Philadelphus; the body-count at the end of each of his lectures was too high (Cic. Tusc. 1.83-4). Perhaps he would have got on with David Benatar...

Anyway, perhaps I'll come back to Hegesias and his generally gloomy picture of life some other time. For now, I just want to share one of his pearls of wisdom from the report in Diogenes Laertius 2.95:

κα τ μν φρονι τ ζν λυσιτελς εναι, τ δ φρονίμ διάφορον.

For the fool life is advantageous; for the wise it is indifferent.

Wisdom makes life less valuable? Perhaps he means it appears advantageous to the fool but in fact it is merely indifferent; only the wise man can see that properly. Or perhaps he means that life is worth living only if you are not (yet) wise. Once widom is achieved there is nothing more of any worth in continuing to live. Perhaps this is what is meant by the frustratingly brief report at DL 2.94 of another of his claims, which seems pointedly different from other thoughts along the lines that life and death are indifferent:

τήν τε ζων κα τν θάνατον αρετόν.

Life and death are choiceworthy.

However we make sense of Hegesias' view, it certainly doesn't give much incentive to go out and try to become wise... And it is also a nice twist on the old Socratic maxim that 'an unexamined life is not worth living'; now, the less you examine your life, the less wise you are, the more point there is to living.

1 comment:

Hegesias said...

might we not also read Hegesias as the purest of Socratics by positing that 'the fool' knows he is a fool; that is, the fool suffers from the second of the two kinds of ignorance in Alcibiades I. Then, we can also say 'the examined life is not worth living' if by that we mean the 'fully examined life', i.e., the life lived by the wise person. We would then also get to say that for the fool who does not know he is a fool, and for whom there is no hope of beginning to examine his life, it is not worth living. Only those who know they are fools and trying to remedy that situation have a right to life; so says the Death Persuader on this reading.