JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

The Cynics.

§ 26.

1. The founder of the Cynics was Antisthenes, an Athenian, a pupil first of Gorgias, and then of Socrates. After the death of the latter philosopher, he taught in the gymnasium, called Cynosarges (whence thc name of his school), to which he was restricted, as not being of purely Athenian extraction.{1} The influence of the teachings of Gorgias was manifested in the rhetorical form of his dialogues, he resembled Socrates in external appearance, and he was bound to his master by the ties of an intimate friendship.

2. Antisthenes brought into special prominence the ethical element in the teaching of Socrates. He asserted that Virtue is the only, as it is the highest good for man; it is all-sufficient, it alone can give happiness. Virtue is, therefore, in the theory of Antisthenes, the highest purpose of human life, and sufficient of itself to create perfect happiness. What is intermediate between Virtue and Wickedness is indifferent (adiaphoron). The good is congenial to us (oikeion), the bad is something foreign (allotrion). Pleasure, sought as an end, is evil.

3. According to Antisthenes the essence of Virtue consists in Self-Control, and this is dependent on right understanding. It is, therefore, one in itself, and it can be imparted by instruction. The strongest bulwark is that knowledge which is founded on safe conclusions. The Self-Control, in which consists the essence of Virtue, is nothing more than independence of all casual needs, that sufficiency in self, which manifests itself in a contempt for conventional customs, as well as in the renunciation of every calling and pursuit in life. Once acquired, Virtue cannot be lost; the man who has once become virtuous can never cease to possess this perfection.

4. The virtuous man is wise, and he only is wise. Virtue and wisdom are to some extent identical. The wise man despises everything -- noble birth, riches, fame, &c.; he has all he wants in himself. With regard to marriage, family, and the social life of the State, he is indifferent. No form of government existing, or possible, is suitable to him. He restricts himself to the inner consciousness of his own virtue, and withdraws from existing society, but only to become a citizen of the world. The faith of the multitude has as little binding force for the wise man as its laws. There is but one God (Cic de Nat. deor. 1, 13, 32). He cannot be known by images. Virtue is the only true worship.

5. Antisthenes was not wholly a stranger to dialectical investigations, though they seem to have chiefly furnished him with matter for sportive sophistries. He explains Definition to be an exposition of the essence of a thing (logos estin ti ên e esit dêlôn). He admits as valid only identical judgments. He maintains, furthermore, that self-contradiction is impossible: "for in the propositions supposed contradictory, we either speak of the same subject, or we do not; if we are speaking of the same thing, we are really making identical assertions, for each thing has only one oikeios logos; if we are speaking of different things, there is, of course, no contradiction." (Arist. Met. V. 29). He combats the Platonic doctrine of Ideas.

6. To the School of the Cynics belong "Diogenes of Sinope, Crates of Thebes, with his wife Hipparchia, and her brother Metrocles, Menippus, a pupil of Crates, and others." Diogenes made himself ridiculous by his extravagance in applying the principles of his master. He is said to have accepted without protest the name "Dog" (kuôn) bestowed upon him. He was also called "Socrates gone mad" (Sokratês mainomenos). He rejected the immorality of his age; but he, at the same time, rejected its morality and its refinement. In its later development, Cynicism, so far as it was not lost in Stoicism, degenerated into mere insolence and indecency.

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{1} He was the son of an Athenian fathcr, but of a Thracian mother.