Tag Archives: Ancient Greek

Cynicism

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Right, so I thought I’d do some quick posts on three of the main schools of thought that came out of Ancient Greece and Rome back in the good old days. First up, Cynicism.

Cynicism was a philosophical way of thinking created by Antisthenes, a pupil of Socrates. The term “Cynic” comes from Ancient Greek and translates roughly to “dog-like” – it seems this name was given to the Cynics due to their canine approach to life; they were shameless and animalistic, but also loyal to their own and to their cause. Diogenes, perhaps the most infamous of the classical Cynics, was known as “the dog-man”.

The Cynics were concerned with virtue, honesty and integrity. Socrates was himself concerned with virtuous existence, but Antisthenes took his theories regarding this subject to their logical extreme, and founded an entire life-philosophy on them. The Cynics were concerned with analyzing society and the people living in it, and finding the flaws therein. They believed that civilization had taken a sort of wrong turn and was leading people away from a virtuous, natural life. Diogenes focused the Cynical “goal” or “vision” by adding that it was important to study basic human nature, and to see where civilization was leading people away from this natural state. Most Cynics lived rough, denouncing wealth, eating and even copulating on the streets – like dogs (I’d say a good way to understand the essence of Cynicism is to remember its literal meaning, as stated above). They were concerned with man returning to a natural existence, and thought that only when people gave up their desire for things like wealth, fame and power could they be happy. They were evangelical, striving at all times to show people the error of their ways. They taught by example and were known to preach in public places. Diogenes apparently walked the streets during the day with a lantern, saying that he was looking for a virtuous man. It’s important to note that the Cynics were not saying we should live like primitive beasts – they saw humans as “rational animals” and thought we should live as such.

Many of the Cynical ideas and theories later went into the making of Stoicism, another Hellenistic “way of life”. In the 19th century, academics began to focus on the negative aspects of Cynicism, which is how we arrived at the contemporary definition of the term “cynic”: an unpleasantly critical and excessively negative person.

Check out these links to learn more (open in a new window/tab):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynicism

http://www.i-cynic.com/whatis.asp

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