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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.
REFERENCESLur’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