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The Mesopotamian’s did not believe in a ‘good’ afterlife, so many sought immortality to avoid the pain of death. In a story from the ;me, The Epic of Gilgamesh, an alewife named Siduri advises Gilgamesh to stop seeking immortality to instead enjoy the pleasures of a mortal life.
Ancient Egypt underwent multiple religious upheavals in the 18th dynasty. This piece specifically calls upon The Harpist Song, a text created after Akhenaten’s rule, which argues that since we have no way of confirming the existence of a god, gods, or afterlife, all we can do is follow happiness on earth.
Ancient Greece is the true birth of the word hedonism, by way of philosophers. Plato and Socrates defined it as an untamed seeking of pleasure, but Epicurus was the first to claim that hedonism was moral. Focus was given to finding physical pleasure and tranquility in everyday life over saving resources for an unknown future of luxury.
In 400 CE China, the Taoist text Liezi features a controversial chapter dedicated to hedonist philosophies. Similar to the Ancient Greeks, the text believes in everyday enjoyment of life, but argues for a method of mindfulness in all pursuits and actives. Value is to be found in a slow, calm life.
While hedonism was frowned upon by many churches in the Renaissance, scholars Sir Thomas Moore and Erasmus argued that it was a moral act. They proposed that God designed humans to be happy, and uses it as motivation to be moral. Therefore, if something makes someone happy, it is an overall good.
In the 1700s, the Romanov Dynasty was well known for the royal court’s opulence. While not self-proclaimed hedonists, they sought indulgence and luxury at every opportunity. More than that, they were known for achieving their lifestyle by exploring and stealing from others.
Victorian England introduces the Aesthetic Movement as hedonism’s newest form. It denounces the sobering working-class lifestyle of the era, naming beauty as the primary pursuit of art also changed as society moved towards the industrial age – it was no longer only religious or political, but also simply decorative.
Ayn Rand used her writings to defend ethical egoism – an offshoot of hedonism that argues that any act of self-interest is moral. In her work, The Fountainhead, she defends American individualism using modern and traditional architecture as her primary metaphor.
Young people in the United States came out of the Vietnam War disillusioned with the American dream. Emerging from this was an era of psychedelic experimenta;on. The goal of this era was to create the op;mal experience through music, light shows, and drugs. This op;mal experience didn’t have a purpose other than pure enjoyment.
The AIDs crisis brought about fear of morality in Western LGBT+ culture. There was also a great deal of judgement put on any of these individuals’ actions. So, with a heightened awareness of their mortality and knowing that they will be judged no ma5er what, LGBT+ individuals chose to follow their truest desires, valuing short term happiness.