Cynicism (Ancient Greek : κυνισμός) is a school of thought of ancient Greek philosophy as practiced by the Cynics (Ancient Greek : Κυνικοί, Latin : Cynici). For the Cynics, the purpose of life is to live in virtue, in agreement with nature. As reasoning creatures, people can gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which is natural for themselves, rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex, and fame. Instead, they were to lead a simple life free from all possessions.
A school of thought, or intellectual tradition, is the perspective of a group of people who share common characteristics of opinion or outlook of a philosophy, discipline, belief, social movement, economics, cultural movement, or art movement.
Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC and continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Greece and most Greek-inhabited lands were part of the Roman Empire. Philosophy was used to make sense out of the world in a non-religious way. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.
The meaning of life, or the answer to the question: "What is the meaning of life?", pertains to the significance of living or existence in general. Many other related questions include: "Why are we here?", "What is life all about?", or "What is the purpose of existence?" There have been a large number of proposed answers to these questions from many different cultural and ideological backgrounds. The search for life's meaning has produced much philosophical, scientific, theological, and metaphysical speculation throughout history. Different people and cultures believe different things for the answer to this question.
The first philosopher to outline these themes was Antisthenes, who had been a pupil of Socrates in the late 5th century BC. He was followed by Diogenes, who lived in a ceramic jar on the streets of Athens.Diogenes took Cynicism to its logical extremes, and came to be seen as the archetypal Cynic philosopher. He was followed by Crates of Thebes, who gave away a large fortune so he could live a life of Cynic poverty in Athens.
Antisthenes was a Greek philosopher and a pupil of Socrates. Antisthenes first learned rhetoric under Gorgias before becoming an ardent disciple of Socrates. He adopted and developed the ethical side of Socrates' teachings, advocating an ascetic life lived in accordance with virtue. Later writers regarded him as the founder of Cynic philosophy.
Socrates was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher of the Western ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, he made no writings, and is known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers writing after his lifetime, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon. Other sources include the contemporaneous Antisthenes, Aristippus, and Aeschines of Sphettos. Aristophanes, a playwright, is the main contemporary author to have written plays mentioning Socrates during Socrates' lifetime, though a fragment of Ion of Chios' Travel Journal provides important information about Socrates' youth.
Diogenes, also known as Diogenes the Cynic, was a Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy. He was born in Sinope, an Ionian colony on the Black Sea, in 412 or 404 BC and died at Corinth in 323 BC.
Cynicism gradually declined and finally disappeared in the 3rd century BC,although it experienced a revival with the rise of the Roman Empire in the 1st century. Cynics could be found begging and preaching throughout the cities of the empire, and similar ascetic and rhetorical ideas appeared in early Christianity. By the 19th century, emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy led to the modern understanding of cynicism to mean a disposition of disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions.
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of ancient Rome, consisting of large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean sea in Europe, North Africa and West Asia ruled by emperors. From the accession of Caesar Augustus to the military anarchy of the third century, it was a principate with Italy as metropole of the provinces and its city of Rome as sole capital. The Roman Empire was then ruled by multiple emperors and divided in a Western Roman Empire, based in Milan and later Ravenna, and an Eastern Roman Empire, based in Nicomedia and later Constantinople. Rome remained the nominal capital of both parts until 476 AD, when it sent the imperial insignia to Constantinople following the capture of Ravenna by the barbarians of Odoacer and the subsequent deposition of Romulus Augustus. The fall of the Western Roman Empire to Germanic kings, along with the hellenization of the Eastern Roman Empire into the Byzantine Empire, is conventionally used to mark the end of Ancient Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages.
Asceticism is a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from sensual pleasures, often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals. Ascetics may withdraw from the world for their practices or continue to be part of their society, but typically adopt a frugal lifestyle, characterised by the renunciation of material possessions and physical pleasures, and time spent fasting while concentrating on the practice of religion or reflection upon spiritual matters.
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Along with grammar and logic, it is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the capacities of writers or speakers needed to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. Aristotle defines rhetoric as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion" and since mastery of the art was necessary for victory in a case at law or for passage of proposals in the assembly or for fame as a speaker in civic ceremonies, calls it "a combination of the science of logic and of the ethical branch of politics". Rhetoric typically provides heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations, such as Aristotle's three persuasive audience appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos. The five canons of rhetoric or phases of developing a persuasive speech were first codified in classical Rome: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.
The name Cynic derives from Ancient Greek κυνικός (kynikos), meaning 'dog-like',andκύων (kyôn), meaning ' dog ' (genitive: kynos). One explanation offered in ancient times for why the Cynics were called "dogs" was because the first Cynic, Antisthenes, taught in the Cynosarges gymnasium at Athens. The word cynosarges means the "place of the white dog". It seems certain, however, that the word dog was also thrown at the first Cynics as an insult for their shameless rejection of conventional manners, and their decision to live on the streets. Diogenes, in particular, was referred to as the "Dog", a distinction he seems to have revelled in, stating that "other dogs bite their enemies, I bite my friends to save them." Later Cynics also sought to turn the word to their advantage, as a later commentator explained:
The domestic dog is a member of the genus Canis (canines), which forms part of the wolf-like canids, and is the most widely abundant terrestrial carnivore. The dog and the extant gray wolf are sister taxa as modern wolves are not closely related to the wolves that were first domesticated, which implies that the direct ancestor of the dog is extinct. The dog was the first species to be domesticated and has been selectively bred over millennia for various behaviors, sensory capabilities, and physical attributes.
Cynosarges was a public gymnasium located just outside the walls of Ancient Athens on the southern bank of the Ilissos river. The modern suburb of Kynosargous is named after it.
There are four reasons why the Cynics are so named. First because of the indifference of their way of life, for they make a cult of indifference and, like dogs, eat and make love in public, go barefoot, and sleep in tubs and at crossroads. The second reason is that the dog is a shameless animal, and they make a cult of shamelessness, not as being beneath modesty, but as superior to it. The third reason is that the dog is a good guard, and they guard the tenets of their philosophy. The fourth reason is that the dog is a discriminating animal which can distinguish between its friends and enemies. So do they recognize as friends those who are suited to philosophy, and receive them kindly, while those unfitted they drive away, like dogs, by barking at them.
Cynicism is one of the most striking of all the Hellenistic philosophies.It offered people the possibility of happiness and freedom from suffering in an age of uncertainty. Although there was never an official Cynic doctrine, the fundamental principles of Cynicism can be summarized as follows:
Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy that was developed in the Hellenistic period following Aristotle and ending with the beginning of Neoplatonism.
Thus a Cynic has no property and rejects all conventional values of money, fame, power and reputation.A life lived according to nature requires only the bare necessities required for existence, and one can become free by unshackling oneself from any needs which are the result of convention. The Cynics adopted Heracles as their hero, as epitomizing the ideal Cynic. Heracles "was he who brought Cerberus, the hound of Hades, from the underworld, a point of special appeal to the dog-man, Diogenes." According to Lucian, "Cerberus and Cynic are surely related through the dog."
The Cynic way of life required continuous training, not just in exercising judgments and mental impressions, but a physical training as well:
[Diogenes] used to say, that there were two kinds of exercise: that, namely, of the mind and that of the body; and that the latter of these created in the mind such quick and agile impressions at the time of its performance, as very much facilitated the practice of virtue; but that one was imperfect without the other, since the health and vigour necessary for the practice of what is good, depend equally on both mind and body.
None of this meant that a Cynic would retreat from society. Cynics were in fact to live in the full glare of the public's gaze and be quite indifferent in the face of any insults which might result from their unconventional behaviour.The Cynics are said to have invented the idea of cosmopolitanism: when he was asked where he came from, Diogenes replied that he was "a citizen of the world, (kosmopolitês)."
The ideal Cynic would evangelise; as the watchdog of humanity, they thought it their duty to hound people about the error of their ways.The example of the Cynic's life (and the use of the Cynic's biting satire) would dig up and expose the pretensions which lay at the root of everyday conventions.
Although Cynicism concentrated primarily on ethics, some Cynics, such as Monimus, addressed epistemology with regard to tuphos (τῦφος) expressing skeptical views.
Cynic philosophy had a major impact on the Hellenistic world, ultimately becoming an important influence for Stoicism. The Stoic Apollodorus, writing in the 2nd century BC, stated that "Cynicism is the short path to virtue."
The classical Greek and Roman Cynics regarded virtue as the only necessity for happiness, and saw virtue as entirely sufficient for attaining it. Classical Cynics followed this philosophy to the extent of neglecting everything not furthering their perfection of virtue and attainment of happiness, thus, the title of Cynic, derived from the Greek word κύων (meaning "dog") because they allegedly neglected society, hygiene, family, money, etc., in a manner reminiscent of dogs. They sought to free themselves from conventions; become self-sufficient; and live only in accordance with nature. They rejected any conventional notions of happiness involving money, power, and fame, to lead entirely virtuous, and thus happy, lives.
The ancient Cynics rejected conventional social values, and would criticise the types of behaviours, such as greed, which they viewed as causing suffering. Emphasis on this aspect of their teachings led, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries,to the modern understanding of cynicism as "an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others." This modern definition of cynicism is in marked contrast to the ancient philosophy, which emphasized "virtue and moral freedom in liberation from desire."
Various philosophers, such as the Pythagoreans, had advocated simple living in the centuries preceding the Cynics. In the early 6th century BC, Anacharsis, a Scythian sage, had combined plain living together with criticisms of Greek customs in a manner which would become standard among the Cynics.Perhaps of importance were tales of Indian philosophers, known as gymnosophists , who had adopted a strict asceticism. By the 5th century BC, the sophists had begun a process of questioning many aspects of Greek society such as religion, law and ethics. However, the most immediate influence for the Cynic school was Socrates. Although he was not an ascetic, he did profess a love of virtue and an indifference to wealth, together with a disdain for general opinion. These aspects of Socrates' thought, which formed only a minor part of Plato's philosophy, became the central inspiration for another of Socrates' pupils, Antisthenes.
Cynics were often recognized in the ancient world by their apparel - an old cloak and a staff. The cloak came as an allusion to Socrates and his manner of dress, while the staff was to the club of Heracles. These items became so symbolic of the Cynic vocation that ancient writers accosted those who thought that donning the Cynic garb would make them suited to the philosophy.
In the social evolution from the archaic age to the classical, the public ceased carrying weapons into the poleis . Originally it was expected that one carried a sword while in the city; However, a transition to spears, and then to staffs occurred until wearing any weapon in the city became a foolish old custom.Thus, the very act of carrying a staff was slightly taboo itself. According to modern theorists, the symbol of the staff was one which both functions as a tool to signal the user’s dissociation from physical labour, that is, as a display of conspicuous leisure, and at the same time it also has an association with sport and typically plays a part in hunting and sports clothing. Thus, it displays active and warlike qualities, rather than being a symbol of a weak man’s need to support himself. The staff itself became a message of how the Cynic was free through its possible interpretation as an item of leisure, but, just as equivalent, was its message of strength - a virtue held in abundance by the Cynic philosopher.
The story of Cynicism traditionally begins with Antisthenes (c. 445–365 BC),who was an older contemporary of Plato and a pupil of Socrates. About 25 years his junior, Antisthenes was one of the most important of Socrates' disciples. Although later classical authors had little doubt about labelling him as the founder of Cynicism, his philosophical views seem to be more complex than the later simplicities of pure Cynicism. In the list of works ascribed to Antisthenes by Diogenes Laërtius, writings on language, dialogue and literature far outnumber those on ethics or politics, although they may reflect how his philosophical interests changed with time. It is certainly true that Antisthenes preached a life of poverty:
I have enough to eat till my hunger is stayed, to drink till my thirst is sated; to clothe myself as well; and out of doors not [even] Callias there, with all his riches, is more safe than I from shivering; and when I find myself indoors, what warmer shirting do I need than my bare walls?
Diogenes (c. 412–323 BC) dominates the story of Cynicism like no other figure. He originally went to Athens, fleeing his home city, after he and his father, who was in charge of the mint at Sinope, got into trouble for falsifying the coinage.(The phrase "defacing the currency" later became proverbial in describing Diogenes' rejection of conventional values.) Later tradition claimed that Diogenes became the disciple of Antisthenes, but it is by no means certain that they ever met. Diogenes did however adopt Antisthenes' teachings and the ascetic way of life, pursuing a life of self-sufficiency (autarkeia), austerity (askēsis), and shamelessness (anaideia). There are many anecdotes about his extreme asceticism (sleeping in a tub), his shameless behaviour (eating raw meat), and his criticism of conventional society ("bad people obey their lusts as servants obey their masters"), and although it is impossible to tell which of these stories are true, they do illustrate the broad character of the man, including an ethical seriousness.
Crates of Thebes (c. 365–c. 285 BC) is the third figure who dominates Cynic history. He is notable because he renounced a large fortune to live a life of Cynic poverty in Athens.He is said to have been a pupil of Diogenes, but again this is uncertain. Crates married Hipparchia of Maroneia after she had fallen in love with him and together they lived like beggars on the streets of Athens, where Crates was treated with respect. Crates' later fame (apart from his unconventional lifestyle) lies in the fact that he became the teacher of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism. The Cynic strain to be found in early Stoicism (such as Zeno's own radical views on sexual equality spelled out in his Republic ) can be ascribed to Crates' influence.
There were many other Cynics in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, including Onesicritus (who sailed with Alexander the Great to India), the skeptic Monimus, the moral satirists Bion of Borysthenes, the diatribist Teles and Menippus of Gadara. However, with the rise of Stoicism in the 3rd century BC, Cynicism as a serious philosophical activity underwent a decline,and it is not until the Roman era that Cynicism underwent a revival.
There is little record of Cynicism in the 2nd or 1st centuries BC; Cicero (c. 50 BC), who was much interested in Greek philosophy, had little to say about Cynicism, except that "it is to be shunned; for it is opposed to modesty, without which there can be neither right nor honor."However, by the 1st century AD, Cynicism reappeared with full force. The rise of Imperial Rome, like the Greek loss of independence under Philip and Alexander three centuries earlier, may have led to a sense of powerlessness and frustration among many people, which allowed a philosophy which emphasized self-sufficiency and inner-happiness to flourish once again. Cynics could be found throughout the empire, standing on street corners, preaching about virtue. Lucian complained that "every city is filled with such upstarts, particularly with those who enter the names of Diogenes, Antisthenes, and Crates as their patrons and enlist in the Army of the Dog," and Aelius Aristides observed that "they frequent the doorways, talking more to the doorkeepers than to the masters, making up for their lowly condition by using impudence." The most notable representative of Cynicism in the 1st century AD was Demetrius, whom Seneca praised as "a man of consummate wisdom, though he himself denied it, constant to the principles which he professed, of an eloquence worthy to deal with the mightiest subjects." Cynicism in Rome was both the butt of the satirist and the ideal of the thinker. In the 2nd century AD, Lucian, whilst pouring scorn on the Cynic philosopher Peregrinus Proteus, nevertheless praised his own Cynic teacher, Demonax, in a dialogue.
Cynicism came to be seen as an idealised form of Stoicism, a view which led Epictetus to eulogise the ideal Cynic in a lengthy discourse.According to Epictetus, the ideal Cynic "must know that he is sent as a messenger from Zeus to people concerning good and bad things, to show them that they have wandered." Unfortunately for Epictetus, many Cynics of the era did not live up to the ideal: "consider the present Cynics who are dogs that wait at tables, and in no respect imitate the Cynics of old except perchance in breaking wind."
Unlike Stoicism, which declined as an independent philosophy after the 2nd century AD, Cynicism seems to have thrived into the 4th century.The emperor, Julian (ruled 361–363), like Epictetus, praised the ideal Cynic and complained about the actual practitioners of Cynicism. The final Cynic noted in classical history is Sallustius of Emesa in the late 5th century. A student of the Neoplatonic philosopher Isidore of Alexandria, he devoted himself to living a life of Cynic asceticism.
Some historians have noted the similarities between the teachings of Jesus and those of the Cynics. Some scholars have argued that the Q document, a hypothetical common source for the gospels of Matthew and Luke, has strong similarities to the teachings of the Cynics.Scholars on the quest for the historical Jesus, such as Burton L. Mack and John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar, have argued that 1st-century AD Galilee was a world in which Hellenistic ideas collided with Jewish thought and traditions. The city of Gadara, only a day's walk from Nazareth, was particularly notable as a centre of Cynic philosophy, and Mack has described Jesus as a "rather normal Cynic-type figure." For Crossan, Jesus was more like a Cynic sage from a Hellenistic Jewish tradition than either a Christ who would die as a substitute for sinners or a messiah who wanted to establish an independent Jewish state of Israel. Other scholars doubt that Jesus was deeply influenced by the Cynics and see the Jewish prophetic tradition as of much greater importance.
Many of the ascetic practices of Cynicism may have been adopted by early Christians, and Christians often employed the same rhetorical methods as the Cynics.Some Cynics were martyred for speaking out against the authorities. One Cynic, Peregrinus Proteus, lived for a time as a Christian before converting to Cynicism, whereas in the 4th century, Maximus of Alexandria, although a Christian, was also called a Cynic because of his ascetic lifestyle. Christian writers would often praise Cynic poverty, although they scorned Cynic shamelessness: Augustine stating that they had, "in violation of the modest instincts of men, boastfully proclaimed their unclean and shameless opinion, worthy indeed of dogs." The ascetic orders of Christianity also had direct connection with the Cynics, as can be seen in the wandering mendicant monks of the early church who in outward appearance, and in many of their practices differed little from the Cynics of an earlier age.
Zeno of Citium was a Hellenistic philosopher of Phoenician origin from Citium, Cyprus. Zeno was the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, which he taught in Athens from about 300 BC. Based on the moral ideas of the Cynics, Stoicism laid great emphasis on goodness and peace of mind gained from living a life of Virtue in accordance with Nature. It proved very popular, and flourished as one of the major schools of philosophy from the Hellenistic period through to the Roman era.
Crates of Thebes was a Cynic philosopher. Crates gave away his money to live a life of poverty on the streets of Athens. He married Hipparchia of Maroneia who lived in the same manner that he did. Respected by the people of Athens, he is remembered for being the teacher of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism. Various fragments of Crates' teachings survive, including his description of the ideal Cynic state.
Menippus of Gadara was a Cynic satirist. His works, all of which are lost, were an important influence on Varro and Lucian. The Menippean satire genre is named after him.
Cebes of Thebes was an Ancient Greek philosopher from Thebes remembered as a disciple of Socrates. One work, known as the Pinax (Πίναξ) or Tabula, attributed to Cebes still survives, but it is believed to be a composition by a pseudonymous author of the 1st or 2nd century CE.
Metrocles was a Cynic philosopher from Maroneia. He studied in Aristotle’s Lyceum under Theophrastus, and eventually became a follower of Crates of Thebes who married Metrocles’ sister Hipparchia. Very little survives of his writings, but he is important as one of the first Cynics to adopt the practice of writing moral anecdotes (chreiai) about Diogenes and other Cynics.
Stilpo was a Greek philosopher of the Megarian school. He was a contemporary of Theophrastus, Diodorus Cronus, and Crates of Thebes. None of his writings survive, he was interested in logic and dialectic, and he argued that the universal is fundamentally separated from the individual and concrete. His ethical teachings approached that of the Cynics and Stoics. His most important followers were Pyrrho, the founder of Pyrrhonism, and Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism.
The Megarian school of philosophy, which flourished in the 4th century BC, was founded by Euclides of Megara, one of the pupils of Socrates. Its ethical teachings were derived from Socrates, recognizing a single good, which was apparently combined with the Eleatic doctrine of Unity. Some of Euclides' successors developed logic to such an extent that they became a separate school, known as the Dialectical school. Their work on modal logic, logical conditionals, and propositional logic played an important role in the development of logic in antiquity.
Bion of Borysthenes was a Greek philosopher. After being sold into slavery, and then released, he moved to Athens, where he studied in almost every school of philosophy. It is, however, for his Cynic-style diatribes that he is chiefly remembered. He satirized the foolishness of people, attacked religion, and eulogized philosophy.
Simon the Shoemaker was an associate of Socrates, and a 'working-philosopher'. He is known mostly from the account given in Diogenes Laërtius' Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. He is also mentioned in passing by Plutarch and Synesius; a pupil of Socrates, Phaedo of Elis, is known to have written a dialogue called Simon.
Hipparchia of Maroneia was a Cynic philosopher, and wife of Crates of Thebes. She was born in Maroneia, but her family moved to Athens, where Hipparchia came into contact with Crates, the most famous Cynic philosopher in Greece at that time. She fell in love with him, and, despite the disapproval of her parents, she married him. She went on to live a life of Cynic poverty on the streets of Athens with her husband.
Apollodorus of Seleucia, or Apollodorus Ephillus, was a Stoic philosopher, and a pupil of Diogenes of Babylon.
Bryson of Achaea was an ancient Greek philosopher.
The Republic was a work written by Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoic philosophy at the beginning of the 3rd century BC. Although it has not survived, it was his most famous work, and various quotes and paraphrases were preserved by later writers. The purpose of the work was to outline the ideal society based on Stoic principles, where virtuous men and women would live a life of simple asceticism in an equal society.
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. Stoicism is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to eudaimonia (happiness) for humans is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one's mind to understand the world and to do one's part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.
Cleomenes was a Cynic philosopher. He was a pupil of Crates of Thebes, and is said to have taught Timarchus of Alexandria and Echecles of Ephesus, the latter of whom would go on to teach Menedemus.
The Cynic epistles are a collection of letters expounding the principles and practices of Cynic philosophy mostly written in the time of the Roman empire but purporting to have been written by much earlier philosophers.
Pasicles of Thebes was a Greek philosopher and brother of the Cynic philosopher Crates of Thebes. He attended the lectures of his brother Crates, but he is otherwise connected with the Megarian school of philosophy, because Diogenes Laërtius calls him a pupil of Euclid of Megara, and the Suda calls him a pupil of an unknown "Dioclides the Megarian." Pasicles is said to have been the teacher of Stilpo, who became leader of the Megarian school. Thus we have the implausible situation of Pasicles teaching Stilpo, Stilpo teaching Crates, and Crates teaching Pasicles. Crates named his son Pasicles.
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