Anaxarchus on Indifference, Happiness, and Convention

In David Wolfsdorf (ed.), Ancient Greek Ethics. Oxford University Press. pp. 680-699 (2020)
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Anaxarchus accompanied Pyrrho on Alexander the Great’s expedition to India and was known as “the Happy Man” because of his impassivity and contentment. Our sources on his philosophy are limited and largely consist of anecdotes about his interactions with Pyrrho and Alexander, but they allow us to reconstruct a distinctive ethical position. It overlaps with several disparate ethical traditions but is not merely a hodge-podge; it hangs together as a unified whole. Like Pyrrho, he asserts that things are indifferent in value and that realizing this indifference leads to contentment. But this doctrine of indifference is rooted in Democritean atomism. And in his pursuit of pleasure and dismissiveness of conventional standards of what is just, noble, and pious, Anaxarchus is closer to fifth century thinkers such as Aristippus, Antiphon, and Critias.

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Tim O'Keefe
Georgia State University


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