Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • In the 4th century BCE, a banker's son threw the city of Sinope into scandal by counterfeiting coins.

  • When the dust finally settled, the young man, Diogenes of Sinope, had been stripped of his citizenship, his money, and all his possessions.

  • At least, that's how the story goes.

  • While many of the details of Diogenes' life are shadowy, the philosophical ideas born out of his disgrace survive today.

  • In exile, Diogenes decided that by rejecting the opinions of others and societal measures of success, he could be truly free.

  • He would live self-sufficiently, close to nature, without materialism, vanity, or conformity.

  • In practice, this meant he spent years wandering around Greek cities with nothing but a cloak, staff, and knapsackoutdoors year-round, forgoing technology, baths, and cooked food.

  • He didn't go about this new existence quietly, but is said to have teased passers-by and mocked the powerful, eating, urinating and even masturbating in public.

  • The citizens called him a kyôn— a barking dog.

  • Though meant as an insult, dogs were actually a good symbol for his philosophythey're happy creatures, free from abstractions like wealth or reputation.

  • Diogenes and his growing number of followers became known asdog philosophers,” or kynikoi, a designation that eventually became the wordCynic.”

  • These early Cynics were a carefree bunch,drawn to the freedom of a wandering lifestyle.

  • As Diogenes' reputation grew, others tried to challenge his commitment.

  • Alexander the Great offered him anything he desired.

  • But instead of asking for material goods,Diogenes only asked Alexander to get out of his sunshine.

  • After Diogenes' death,adherents to his philosophy continued to call themselves Cynics for about 900 years, until 500 CE.

  • Some Greek philosophers, like the Stoics, thought everyone should follow Diogenes' example.

  • They also attempted to tone down his philosophy to be more acceptable to conventional societywhich, of course, was fundamentally at odds with his approach.

  • Others viewed the Cynics less charitably.

  • In the Roman province of Syria in the 2nd century CE, the satirist Lucian described the Cynics of his own time as unprincipled, materialistic, self-promoting hypocrites, who only preached what Diogenes had once actually practiced.

  • Reading Lucian's texts centuries later, Renaissance and Reformation writers called their rivals cynics as an insultmeaning people who criticized others without having anything worthwhile to say.

  • This usage eventually laid the groundwork for the modern meaning of the wordcynic:"

  • A person who thinks everyone else is acting out of pure self-interest, even if they claim a higher motive.

  • Still, the philosophy of cynicism had admirers, especially among those who wished to question the state of society.

  • The 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was called thenew Diogeneswhen he argued that the arts, sciences, and technology, corrupt people.

  • In 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche reimagined a story in which Diogenes went into the Athenian marketplace with a lantern, searching in vain for a single honest person.

  • In Nietszche's version, a so-called madman rushes into a town square to proclaim thatGod is dead.”

  • This was Nietzsche's way of calling for a “revaluation of values,” and rejecting the dominant Christian and Platonic idea of universal, spiritual insights beyond the physical world.

  • Nietzsche admired Diogenes for sticking stubbornly to the here-and-now.

  • More recently, the hippies of the 1960s have been compared with Diogenes as counter-cultural rebels.

  • Diogenes' ideas have been adopted and reimagined over and over again.

  • The original cynics might not have approved of these fresh takes: they believed that their values of rejecting custom and living closely with nature were the only true values.

  • Whether or not you agree with that, or with any of the later incarnations, all have one thing in common: they questioned the status quo.

  • And that's an example we can still follow: not to blindly follow conventional or majority views, but to think hard about what is truly valuable.

  • Thinking critically about our institutions and way of life is more important than ever. Hone your new found skepticism with these videos.

In the 4th century BCE, a banker's son threw the city of Sinope into scandal by counterfeiting coins.

Subtitles and keywords

B2 H-INT US nietzsche philosophy rejecting wandering insult century

The philosophy of cynicism - William D. Desmond

  • 3857 427
    Angel Hsu   posted on 2020/01/19
Video vocabulary

Go back to previous version