Cynics


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Cynics

(sĭn`ĭks) [Gr.,=doglike, probably from their manners and their meeting place, the Cynosarges, an academy for Athenian youths], ancient school of philosophy founded c.440 B.C. by AntisthenesAntisthenes
, b. 444? B.C., d. after 371 B.C., Greek philosopher, founder of the Cynics. Most of his paradoxical views stemmed from his early Sophist orientation, even though he became one of Socrates' most ardent followers.
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, a disciple of Socrates. The Cynics considered virtue to be the only good, not just the highest good as Socrates had asserted. To them, virtue meant a life of self-sufficiency, of suppression of desires and restriction of wants. The Cynics paraded their poverty, their antagonism to pleasure, and their indifference to others, thereby gaining a reputation for fanatical unconventionality. After Antisthenes the principal Cynics were DiogenesDiogenes
, c.412–323 B.C., Greek Cynic philosopher; pupil of Antisthenes. He was born in Sinope and lived in Athens. He taught that the virtuous life is the simple life, and he dramatically discarded conventional comforts, living in a tub.
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 of Sinope and Crates, his pupil. The Cynics, who survived until the 6th cent. A.D., influenced the Stoics, with whom they shared some philosophical objectives (see StoicismStoicism
, school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium (in Cyprus) c.300 B.C. The first Stoics were so called because they met in the Stoa Poecile [Gr.,=painted porch], at Athens, a colonnade near the Agora, to hear their master Zeno lecture.
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).

Cynics

 

one of the Socratic schools of philosophy in ancient Greece. Its exponents, notably Antisthenes, Diogenes of Sinope, and Crates of Thebes, sought not so much to construct a systematic theory of being and knowledge as to work out a particular way of life and to test it out experimentally on themselves. Their chief legacy to subsequent generations was not the treatises they wrote but primarily anecdotes about them, such as Diogenes’ barrel and his demand that Alexander the Great “stand aside and not block the sunlight” and Crates’ consummation of his marriage in a public square. The primitive nature of Cynic philosophizing, so striking in comparison to the skillful dialectic of Platonism and Aristotelianism, reflected their attempt to formulate ideas in the simplest possible way. To think in the Cynic manner is only a means; the goal is to follow the Cynic way of life.

The Cynic doctrine, formed during the crisis of the classical polis by persons who had no place in civic life (the founder of Cynicism, Antisthenes, was illegitimate), summed up the experience of the individual who could rely spiritually only upon himself and urged this individual to regard his existence apart from patriarchal ties as an opportunity to achieve the highest good, spiritual freedom. Following the example of Socrates, the Cynics carried his teachings to unprecedentedly radical conclusions, which they surrounded with an aura of paradox, sensation, and street scandal; Plato rightly called Diogenes a “Socrates gone mad.” Whereas Socrates had still shown respect for the most widely accepted precepts of traditional patriotic morality, the Cynics defiantly called themselves “citizens of the world” (they coined the term “cosmopolitan”) and made a point of living not by society’s laws, but by their own, willingly accepting the status of beggars or “holy fools.” They chose as the optimal human condition precisely the one that was considered not only the most calamitous but also the most humiliating: Diogenes readily applied to himself the words of the fearful curse, “without community, home, or fatherland.” The Cynics wished to be “naked and alone”; social relations and cultural conventions seemed to them illusory, so much “smoke.” As an intellectual provocation, they rejected all shame, insisting, for example, that incest and cannibalism were permissible. The “smoke” had to be dispersed, revealing the essence of humanity, in which man must envelop and enclose himself in order to become absolutely immune to any blow from without. For the Cynics all forms of physical and spiritual poverty were preferable to wealth; it was better to be a barbarian than a Greek, better to be animal than human. Simplification of life was accompanied by intellectual simplification. Thus insofar as the Cynics concerned themselves with the theory of knowledge, they criticized general concepts, especially Plato’s “ideas,” as harmful inventions that complicated the act of relating directly to an object.

The Cynic philosophy was a direct source of Stoicism, which softened the paradoxes of Cynicism and introduced a more constructive attitude toward political life and intellectual culture, while retaining the Cynics’ concern with ethics over other philosophical disciplines. The Cynic way of life had an ideological influence on the shaping of Christian asceticism, especially in such manifestations as “holy fools” (iurodivyi) and mendicants. The Cynic school must be classed among the various intellectual movements—from the yogis and dervishes to today’s hippies— that arise in internally disordered societies, compensating for the lack of social freedom by permitting antisocial freedom.

REFERENCES

Lur’e, S. la. Ocherkipo istorii antichnoi nauki. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.
Losev, A. F. Istoriia antichnoi estetiki: Sofisty, Sokrat, Platon. Moscow, 1969. Pages 84–108.
Nakhov, I. M. “Politicheskie vzgliady kinikov.” In the collection Voprosy klassicheskoi filologii, vols. 3–4. Moscow, 1971. Pages 66–154.
Dudley, D. R. A History of Cynicism From Diogenes to the Sixth Century. London, 1937.
Höistad, R. Cynic Hero and Cynic King: Studies in the Cynic Conception of Man. Uppsala, 1948.
Sayre, F. The Greek Cynics. Baltimore, 1948.

S. S. AVERINTSEV

References in classic literature ?
As the Cynic spoke, several of the party were startled by a gleam of red splendor, that showed the huge shapes of the surrounding mountains and the rock-bestrewn bed of the turbulent river with an illumination unlike that of their fire on the trunks and black boughs of the forest trees.
As the Cynic spoke, several of the party were startled by a gleam of red splendor, that showed the huge shapes of the surrounding mountains and the rock- bestrewn bed of the turbulent river with an illumination unlike that of their fire on the trunks and black boughs of the forest trees.
Then Newman reflected that these are mighty mysteries, that possibly he himself was indeed that baleful and barely mentionable thing, a cynic, and that his manner of considering the treasures of art and the privileges of life was probably very base and immoral.
He went as the deputy of some missionary society to preach in the neighbourhood of Trantridge, a place forty miles from here, and made it his business to expostulate with a lax young cynic he met with somewhere about there--son of some landowner up that way--and who has a mother afflicted with blindness.
All the hate and scorn and love of a deep nature such as the shy man is ever cursed by fester and corrupt within, instead of spending themselves abroad, and sour him into a misanthrope and cynic.
and the little Lizard, who was something of a cynic, laughed outright.
So the Cynic turned out of the road to let the Optimist roll by in his gold carriage.
Thackeray has been called a cynic, that is one who does not believe in the goodness of human nature, and who sneers at and finds fault with everything.
Nothing to put in a newspaper," retorted the cynic, pursuing his investigations as attentively as ever.
Yet in reality Thackeray is not a cynic and the permanent impression left by his books is not pessimistic.
To the insular cynic and the insular moralist they offer an equal opportunity.
It may have been shame, or it may have been dislike of his neighbours, but the old Cynic of Queen's Crawley hardly issued from his park- gates at all now.