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Q: Attribution of a philosophy ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   6 Comments )
Subject: Attribution of a philosophy
Category: Reference, Education and News
Asked by: rustedroot-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 25 Feb 2003 13:25 PST
Expires: 27 Mar 2003 13:25 PST
Question ID: 167062
In the movie Serendipity, there was a line that said: "The ancient
Greeks did not write obituaries, instead they asked only one question
of a man (or a woman):  'Did he have passion?' My question is: to whom
or what is this attributable (other than the screenwriter)?
Subject: Re: Attribution of a philosophy
Answered By: hlabadie-ga on 27 Feb 2003 07:04 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
This is the philosophy of Aristippus of Cyrene (c. 435-356 B.C.) and
his grandson Aristippus, founders of the Cyrenaics, a post-Socratic
school, the most salient principal of which was Egoistic Hedonism, as
passed through the interpretational filter of 19th Century
Aestheticism. The immediate antecedents of this statement can be found
in the works of Walter Pater (1839-1894) and Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).

Pater, an Oxford don, was an influential critic, historian, essayist,
and novelist in the late 19th Century British artistic movement called
Aestheticism, the main tenet of which was the devotion of life to the
appreciation of refined sensation as represented by artistic beauty.
The movement could trace its philosophical origins back to the Greek
understanding that all human knowledge was gained through stimulation
of the senses, and that personal perception was the ultimate gauge of
reality. The Greeks formulated several schools of philosophy out of
this basic idea. Socrates and Plato projected the notion of Ideas, the
ideal forms that human beings only imperfectly perceived in the
material world and which they had to intuitively reconstruct in their
own minds in order to perceive the true and the good of the "real"
world beyond the senses. Aristippus propounded a philosophy that was
based upon the human reaction to pleasure and pain through sensation
of the world. Pleasure, he thought, was the test of right perception,
while pain was the warning of error. It was the goal of every man to
seek pleasure and to avoid pain, and human understanding of the good
was directed by the correcting influential sensations of pleasure and
pain. Thus, men should seek what is pleasurable and thereby learn what
is good. For Aristippus, this would lead to right moral behavior, as
wrong behavior would inevitably bring about pain, while right behavior
would result in pleasure. For some later Cyrenaics, and for the
Aesthetes, this could be interpreted as advocacy for heightened
sensual experience. And, as every man was the judge of his own
sensations and had his own peculiar natural tendencies and gifts, each
man would tend to find this heightened experience in the cultivation
of his passions, for they were expressions of his basic nature. The
goal, then, was to "Know thyself," since that was all that could be

Therefore, the Cyrenaics thought that every man must seek his own
pleasure as the highest good.  Pleasure is an end in itself, and men
ought to pursue it single-mindedly. As every man's perception of
pleasure is unique to him, he must find his own measure of what is
pleasurable and good. The Cyrenaics also believed that men can only
truly know what they are feeling at the moment, and thus each man must
seek the immediate gratification, the pleasure of the moment. These
beliefs can be found in Aestheticism. For instance, in Chapter IX: New
Cyrenaicism of Pater's historical novel, Marius the Epicurean: His
Sensations and Ideas, Pater wrote:

"If he could but count upon the present, if a life brief at best could
not certainly be shown to conduct one anywhere beyond itself, if men's
highest curiosity was indeed so persistently baffled--then, with the
Cyrenaics of all ages, he would at least fill up the measure of that
present with vivid sensations, and such intellectual apprehensions,
as, in strength and directness and their immediately realised values
at the bar of an actual experience, are most like sensations.So some
have spoken in every age; for, like all theories which really express
a strong natural tendency of the human mind or even one of its
characteristic modes of weakness, this vein of reflection is a
constant tradition in philosophy.  Every age of European thought has
had its Cyrenaics or Epicureans, under many disguises: even under the
hood of the monk.

But--Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die!--is a proposal, the
real import of which differs immensely, according to the natural
taste, and the acquired judgment, of the guests who sit at the table. 
It may express nothing better than the instinct of Dante's Ciacco, the
accomplished glutton, in the mud of the Inferno;+ or, since on no
hypothesis does man "live by bread alone," may come to be identical
with--"My meat is to do what is just and kind;" while the soul, which
can make no sincere claim to have apprehended anything beyond the veil
of immediate experience, yet never loses a sense of happiness in
conforming to the highest moral ideal it can clearly define for
itself; and actually, though but with so faint hope, does the
"Father's business."

In that age of Marcus Aurelius, so completely disabused of the
metaphysical ambition to pass beyond "the flaming ramparts of the
world," but, on the other hand, possessed of so vast an accumulation
of intellectual treasure, with so wide a view before it over all
varieties of what is powerful or attractive in man and his works, the
thoughts of Marius did but follow the line taken by the majority of
educated persons, though to a different issue.  Pitched to a really
high and serious key, the precept--Be perfect in regard to what is
here and now: the precept of "culture," as it is called, or of a
complete education--might at least save him from the vulgarity and
heaviness of a generation, certainly of no general fineness of temper,
though with a material well-being abundant enough.  Conceded that what
is secure in our existence is but the sharp apex of the present moment
between two hypothetical eternities, and all that is real in our
experience but a series of fleeting impressions:--so Marius continued
the sceptical argument he had condensed, as the matter to hold by,
from his various philosophical reading:--given, that we are never to
get beyond the walls of the closely shut cell of one's own
personality; that the ideas we are somehow impelled to form of an
outer world, and of other minds akin to our own, are, it may be, but a
day-dream, and the thought of any world beyond, a day-dream perhaps
idler still: then, he, at least, in whom those fleeting
impressions--faces, voices, material sunshine--were very real and
imperious, might well set himself to the consideration, how such
actual moments as they passed might be made to yield their utmost, by
the most dexterous training of capacity.  Amid abstract metaphysical
doubts, as to what might lie one step only beyond that experience,
reinforcing the deep original materialism or earthliness of human
nature itself, bound so intimately to the sensuous world, let him at
least make the most of what was "here and now."  In the actual dimness
of ways from means to ends--ends in themselves desirable, yet for the
most part distant and for him, certainly, below the visible
horizon--he would at all events be sure that the means, to use the
well-worn terminology, should have something of finality or perfection
about them, and themselves partake, in a measure, of the more
excellent nature of ends--that the means should justify the end."

Wilde, in his more epigrammatic manner, would reduce this to simpler
terms. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry Wotton says,
"Pleasure is the only thing worth having a theory about. But I am
afraid that I cannot claim my theory as my own. It belongs to Nature,
not to me." In conversation, Wilde is reported as having said,
"Knowledge came to me through pleasure, as it always does, I imagine.
I was nearly sixteen when the wonder and beauty of the old Greek life
began to dawn on me...I began to read Greek eagerly for the love of it
all, and the more I read the more I was enthralled." (pp. 180-181, The
Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde, ed. Redman, Alvin. Dover Publications,
New York, 1959.)

One can see already the generalizing effect which has taken the
Cyrenaic philosophy and broadened it to include all the Greek life. It
is only a short step from these pronouncements to the sentiment
expressed in the movie. It is, of course, an exaggeration.

Cyrenaics [The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

Marius the Epicurean: His Sensations and Ideas


Walter Pater Marius Epicurean


Request for Answer Clarification by rustedroot-ga on 27 Feb 2003 07:51 PST
My thanks for a scholarly and comprehensive answer.  What resonated
for me in the movie line was simply the word passion, of which
pleasure, naturally is a subset.  But passion encompasses so much
more, including passionate anger and passionate
beliefs/views/philosophy, which takes us in a direction other than
pleasure.  Do you think this is included or covered in your reply?


Clarification of Answer by hlabadie-ga on 27 Feb 2003 09:16 PST
As I wrote in the answer:
"For some later Cyrenaics, and for the Aesthetes, this could be
interpreted as advocacy for heightened sensual experience. And, as
every man was the judge of his own sensations and had his own peculiar
natural tendencies and gifts, each man would tend to find this
heightened experience in the cultivation of his passions, for they
were expressions of his basic nature. The goal, then, was to "Know
thyself," since that was all that could be known."

In this development of the Cyrenaic philosophy, the passion is the
personal, internally generated, inherent urge of the individual, which
finds satisfaction when pleasure is achieved. Thus, as the passage
from Pater shows, the peculiar pyschological arrangement of any
individual will be satisfied by peculiar pleasures, unique to the
individual, and the highest degree of pleasure will be found by
pursuing the satisfaction of the strongest desire of the individual --
his passion. The passion could be for purely intellectual or spiritual
matters, and the pleasure purely mental. The Epicureans differentiated
themselves from the Cyrenaics on this point, of mental pleasure as
opposed to physical, but they both admitted the notion of the personal
impulse. Passion as used in movie should be read as this impulse, the
most fervent personal impulse for self-realization, however it is
expressed. Pleasure is merely the index that the impulse has been
reached and satisfied. If a person has no passion, then he has failed
to identify this most important part of his own being.

As I said, the root is Aristippean, but the expression from the movie
is derived through the prism of Aetheticism, which tended to emphasize
the impulse, the passion, which could be realized through sensation.

rustedroot-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
A thorough and scholarly effort to answer what I thought would be an
unanswerable query.  I'm delighted to know that there is a legitimate
attribution for this movie line.  Thanks

Subject: Re: Attribution of a philosophy
From: pinkfreud-ga on 25 Feb 2003 14:18 PST
I strongly suspect that the origin of this quotation is in Hollywood,
not in Athens.

I have found no online references to the "Did he have passion" quote
except sites which appear to be quoting "Serendipity."

I cannot prove a thing, but I think it's hokum. I've taken numerous
courses in classical Greek philosophy and literature, and I never
encountered this quote.

I don't know precisely what is meant by the statement that the ancient
Greeks did not have obituaries. Obviously, they didn't have printing
presses, so if by "obituaries" one means death notices in newspapers,
then the ancient Greeks didn't have them.

However, the ancient Greeks did a great deal more after a person's
death than to ask about the passion of the deceased individual; for
well-to-do persons who died, there were lengthy funeral elegies,
inscribed gravestones (called 'stelai',) elaborate cremation urns. All
these death-related customs went beyond asking "Did he have passion?"

Here's a classical scholar who is suspicious:

I can't prove that the quote does not exist in the works of some
obscure Greek philosopher (it is extremely difficult to prove a
negative,) but, frankly, the "Did they have passion" line sounds to me
less like ancient Greek and more like Zorba the Greek. ;-)
Subject: Re: Attribution of a philosophy
From: rustedroot-ga on 25 Feb 2003 15:01 PST

Many thanks for your comments.  Your last line was a gem.  I'll check your link.
Subject: Re: Attribution of a philosophy
From: journalist-ga on 25 Feb 2003 15:35 PST
Excellent research and answer, Pink.  I concur with your findings - in
my estimation, it's pure Hollywood.  But a great line!  ;)
Subject: Re: Attribution of a philosophy
From: quasarquark-ga on 26 Feb 2003 10:58 PST
Why don't you contact the writer and ask him/her?
Subject: Re: Attribution of a philosophy
From: rustedroot-ga on 26 Feb 2003 12:22 PST
Thanks quasarquark -- I've tried that route and cannot find a way to
contact  the screewriter, Marc Klein, either directly or indirectly. 
I did post a query through, with no reply.  If you
have a way to track him down, I'm all ears/eyes.

Subject: Re: Attribution of a philosophy
From: voila-ga on 01 Mar 2003 17:51 PST
Since Marc Klein worked for Miramax on "Serendipity" and is adapting
the Korean film "My Wife is a Gangster," again for Miramax Films, you
might contact him there.  Klein's agent is International Creative

Title:        My Wife Is a Gangster 
Log Line: A female Mafia boss decides to get married in order to
fulfill her sister's dying wish.  She finds the most innocent and
trusting man in hopes that he won't ask too many nosy questions. After
they're married, however, he starts to wise up and she starts to fall
in love.
Writer:     Marc Klein 
Agent:      ICM 
Buyer:      Miramax Films 
Price:        n/a 
Genre:      Drama 
Logged:    11/01/02 
More:       Writing assignment. Remaking the Korean film.  Vertigo
Entertainment's Roy Lee and Doug Davison to produce.

International Creative Management 

c/o ICM 
40 West 57th Street, 
New York, NY 10019 USA 

c/o ICM 
8942 Wilshire Blvd 
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

(I think the NY ICM office handles writers; LA office handles actors
and directors.)

Miramax Films,2163,104036,00.html

Good luck,

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