Aristippus: Using Beauty in the Way Beauty is Useful

The following passage from Diogenes on Aristippus shows that some of the ‘logic’ arguments in misogynistic and MRA circles are nothing new under the sun.

Diogenes Laertius on Aristippus (Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 99)

“He said that the world was his country. That theft, adultery, and sacrilege had their seasons, since none of these are shameful by nature if you take away the opinion against them which has been upheld for the policing of fools.

The wise man, he maintained, would pursue what he loved without examining the context. For example, he use to pose arguments like this: Is a woman grammarian useful because of her skill at grammar? Yes? And a child or adolescent grammarian is useful because of his skill at grammar. Yes?

So, then. A women who is beautiful is useful because of her beauty. Yes? And a child or adolescent who is handsome is useful because of this too? Yes? And this usefulness comes from its enjoyment?

Once this logic was accepted, he would continue by saying that “therefore if someone takes enjoyment of something in the way it is useful he does not do wrong—not even if he uses beauty in the way beauty is useful.” He used to win arguments by saying these kinds of things.”

Εἶναί τε πατρίδα τὸν κόσμον. κλέψειν τε καὶ μοιχεύσειν καὶ ἱεροσυλήσειν ἐν καιρῷ· μηδὲν γὰρ τούτων φύσει αἰσχρὸν εἶναι, τῆς ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς δόξης αἰρομένης, ἣ σύγκειται ἕνεκα τῆς τῶν ἀφρόνων συνοχῆς. φανερῶς δὲ τοῖς ἐρωμένοις ἄνευ πάσης ὑφοράσεως χρήσεσθαι τὸν σοφόν. διὸ καὶ τοιούτους λόγους ἠρώτα· “ἆρά γε γυνὴ γραμματικὴ χρήσιμος ἂν εἴη παρ᾿ ὅσον γραμματική ἐστι;” “ναί.” “καὶ παῖς καὶ νεανίσκος γραμματικὸς χρήσιμος ἂν εἴη παρ᾿ ὅσον γραμματικός ἐστι;” “ναί.” “οὐκοῦν καὶ γυνὴ καλὴ χρησίμη ἂν εἴη παρ᾿ ὅσον καλή ἐστι, καὶ παῖς καὶ νεανίσκος καλὸς χρήσιμος ἂν εἴη παρ᾿ ὅσον καλός ἐστι;” “ναί.” “καὶ παῖς ἄρα καὶ νεανίσκος καλὸς πρὸς τοῦτ᾿ ἂν εἴη χρήσιμος πρὸς ὃ καλός ἐστι;” “ναί.” “ἔστι δὲ χρήσιμος πρὸς τὸ πλησιάζειν.” ὧν δεδομένων ἐπῆγεν· “οὐκοῦν εἴ τις πλησιασμῷ χρώμενος παρ᾿ ὅσον χρήσιμός ἐστιν, οὐ διαμαρτάνει· οὐδ᾿ ἄρα εἰ κάλλει χρήσαιτο παρ᾿ ὅσον χρήσιμόν ἐστι, διαμαρτήσεται.” τοιαῦτα ἄττα διερωτῶν ἴσχυε τῷ λόγῳ

Actual image of Aristippus ‘enjoying beauty’. [For real: Ineffectual wodewose wooing from the Taymouth Hours, England, c. 1325–50, Yates Thompson MS 13, ff. 62r–63v]

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