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Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy

Volume 23, Issue 2, Spring 2019

Katharine R. O'Reilly
Pages 431-443
DOI: 10.5840/epoche2019321140

Cicero Reading the Cyrenaics on the Anticipation of Future Harms

A common reading of the Cyrenaics is that they are a school of extreme hedonist presentists, recognising only the pleasure of the present moment, and advising against turning our attention to past or future pleasure or pain. Yet they have some strange advice which tells followers to anticipate future harms in order to lessen the unexpectedness of them when they occur. It’s a puzzle, then, how they can consistently hold the attitude they do to our concern with our present selves, and yet endorse the practise of dwelling on possible future painful scenarios. To establish that this is a puzzle, though, we must first be convinced that the report is true. Cicero is our only clear source for the Cyrenaic advice, and scholars have noted reasons to be suspicious of the reliability of his report. I discuss these doubts, and why they ultimately fail to undermine Cicero’s testimony as a source. Defending Cicero as a source for Cyrenaic thought removes a barrier to taking seriously an aspect of Cyrenaic psychology which could radically alter our understanding of their views.