Alex Williams Diogenes The Cynic

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Alex Williams

Diogenes The Cynic

By Alex Williams

Intro to Philosophy

Diogenes was an ancient Greek philosopher. He lived from 404-323 B.C.E. And was born in Sinope. Diogenes was the most famous of all the cynical philosophers. Cynicism was a way of living and Diogenes lived his life as a true cynic.

The name cynic translates roughly to “dog like”. The term may have come from the school in which it was taught, Cynosarges. Cynosarges is Greek for “Silver dog school”. Another theory of how cynicsim got its name may have been from the dog-like behavior of Diogenes himself. Diogenes had surounded himself with dogs and was believed to have said “ The more I know man the more I love dogs.” Diogenes prefered the company of dogs over man because man suffers from to much civilization.

Diogenes learned that he doesn't need conventional shelter to live under. He can adapt to whatever nature throws at him. This willingness to adapt led to the beginings of his askesis or training. His training to live in and with nature is the most basic value of cynicism. This is because nature shows us how to live. Nature lives by reason, self sufficency, and freedom. The policies of civilization have rules that put constraints on our freedom and that oppose nature and reason.

The Cynic life is not an easy life to live. To live this life you need to train yourself. This training is called askesis. The Cynic must train the body to benefit the soul. Diogenes would walk in the snow barefoot, or roll in the hot summer sands. Cynics would live without money or any other commodities that others considered nnecessities. Diogenes lived in poverty. He went to the extremes by living in an old wine barrel or possibly a bathing tub. Diogenes' askesis was so extreme in some cases to benefit those that followed him. If they could do things half as well as he, then they were on the right path.The cynic life is to embrace hardship and toils. Nature is a harsh place to live and you must continuously adapt to it.

Diogenes was said to be shameless. But his shamelessness is way of practicing cynicism. When he broke the rules in public he used this logic; “ What is not shameful in private is not shameful in public.” An example of his “shameful” ways would be eating while being at the marketplace. This is against the public views of his time. He reproached by saying “It was in the marketplace that I felt hungry.” (Diogenes Laertius, Book 6, chapter 46). There are a lot of things people do in private that is not seen fit to do in public, but if you are not ashamed to do it in private why can't it be done in public? The constraints and rules of public life prevent us from doing what we want to. This is what Diogenes believed so he practiced it and did not worry about what the public had to say about it. He was not ashamed of anything that he did in his life.

When Plato was asked what kind of a man Diogenes was, he responds “ A Socrates gone mad.” (Diogenes Laertious, Book 6, Chapter 46). Diogenes was seen as mad because he acted against the rules of public life, which he saw as lacking reason. He believed that reason should guide our conduct; otherwise, we should be chained up like pets. Reason keeps us safe and takes us down the proper path in life.

Freedom is another important piece to the Cynics ethics. Cynics break freedom down into three parts; the eleutheria, the autarkeia, and the parrhesia. The eleutheria is your basic freedom or liberty. Autarkeia is freedom of self-sufficiency. The parrhesia is the most important piece, it stands for the freedom of speech or frankness. An example of parrhesia occurs when Alexander The Great stands over Diogenes and asks him, ' Ask of me any boon you like.' and Diogenes replies by saying ' Stand out of my light.' Diogenes does not care that Alexander is a mighty king that could have given him anything he could dream of. All Diogenes wanted was to bask in the sunlight. Cynics in general, tend to avoid contact with kings and politicians. The reason being that if one enters the realm of politics, it will take away your self-sufficency and strength. Diogenes and the Cynics would prefer a simplistic life in poverty over an indulgent life lived on the kings court. Plato believes that paying court to a king, frees a man from poverty. Cynics see poverty as a freedom from paying court to a ruler. If one is to pay court to a ruler you loose your most important freedom, parrhesia. In the rulers court you can not speak freely. You can be punished for not agreeing with his highness.

Religion is also frowned upon by the Cynics. For one to pray for things that nature could not provide, such as; wealth, power, and fame, seems a foolish thing to do. The Cynic only wanted what nature could give them. Anything outside of nature is redundant. To seek things outside of nature obstructs ones freedom and narrows the mind of a man.

Cosmopolitanism is another interesting practice of the Cynic lifestyle. Cosmopolitanism is the idea of being a man of The Universe instead of a man of a specific state or country. Cosmopolitanism in a way, says that we are all equals. Cosmopolitanism is open to all people and not just an elite group. If everyone is from the Universe then we are all governed by the same laws. The Laws of Nature. The Cynic lives in accordance with nature, nature frees you from the politics that take away your freedoms. Diogenes' political philosophy is that political associations should not be to a state, but rather to humanity itself.

Today classical Cynicism appears to be dead. Quite the contrary, it is still very much alive. It is still found today in literature and has inspired its own genre, Menippean Satire. Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver's Travels are just a few examples of this genre. People today call themselves Cynics. “Everyone's a Cynic” is a popular saying today as well. They may be Cynics but they aren't Cynics in the classical way. They way taught and lived by Diogenes. In the classical sense, Nobody is a Cynic.

Works Cited

"Cynics [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 29 Mar. 2011. .

Diogenes, Laertius, and Robert Drew Hicks. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1970. Print.
"Diogenes of Sinope [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 29 Mar. 2011.


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