Monday, August 22, 2011

Diogenes the Cynic - madness or genius?

Cynicism was a school of Greek philosophy based on Socrates’ principles to pursue truth without wealth or power. They promoted a simple life and rejected the social and religious values of civilization. The independence they promoted was different than Aristotle’s view on what a human being meant. For them, the human being was not social or political.  

An interesting character linked to cynicism was Diogenes the Cynic, also known as Diogenes of Sinope. He was a very controversial figure of his time but unfortunately he left no writings. What’s interesting about him was the fact that he used his behavior to criticize the society’s values because he believed that virtue should be shown in action not theory. When he came in Athens he needed no house so he took a pithos as shelter. He did so after watching a mouse and he concluded that man can adapt to any circumstance.

Diogenes is also very famous because he used to carry a lamp in the daytime while telling people that he was looking for a human being.  He also had a bit of an altercation with Alexander the Great. Apparently Alexander was very happy to meet the philosopher and when he asked him if he needed a favor, Diogenes replied “Stand out of my sunlight”. Another episode that involves them is when Alexander found the philosopher looking at a pile of bones with great interest. When asked what he was doing Diogenes said that he was searching for the bones of Alexander’s father but he could not distinguish them from those of a slave.  
It seems that Alexander the Great’s admiration for the philosopher is what kept the philosopher alive despite his public mockery. 

He was also famous for sabotaging Plato’s lectures and there’s even a funny story about this. Plato considered that man was a “featherless biped” so Diogenes took a chicken plucked its feathers and brought it to Plato’s Academy saying “Behold! I have brought you a man”. 

He also made fun of people’s obsession with death and proper burying by saying that he wishes (when he is dead) to be left outside the city walls to be eaten by animals. When asked if he doesn’t mind that, he replied that they should also give him a stick to chase the animals away. Again, he was asked how he will be able to chase them away if he is not aware because he is dead; he ultimately replied with a question saying why would he be worried about what happens to him after death if he is not aware.

Diogenes is probably one of my favorite philosophers. He practiced what he preach, he was funny, and he was fearless. Was he mad? I don't know but I bet he had a lot of fun. 


  1. LOL @ Fan Tomb.
    Yeah, he's dead meat now, but he was a great provacatuer (spellcheck says I got that wrong), and I bet he was more fun than a barrel of monkeys...and being at least as fun as a barrel of monkeys should be a mandatory requirement for anyone purporting to be a philosopher.