Diogenes and cynicism

Not being a classicist, I had not known much about the ancient philosopher Diogenes other than the story about him wandering around with a lantern trying to find an honest man and presumably failing.

But this video says that there was a lot more to him than that, that he was the founder of the philosophical school known as cynicism that meant something somewhat different from what we associate with the word nowadays.

Plato once described the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope as ‘a Socrates gone mad!’ It’s a good comparison. Like Socrates, Diogenes gave the bird to respectable society. He undermined status and manners in the 4th century BCE with his bottomless reserve of shamelessness and irreverence, opting to live on the streets like a stray dog. But, of course, there was a method to his madness. In this short video by TED-Ed, the Irish philosopher William D Desmond explains how Diogenes lived an authentic and ascetic life in accordance with nature, and how in doing so he founded the philosophy of cynicism – an iconoclastic tradition that continues to illuminate and infuriate today.


  1. John Morales says

    As with epicureanism, cynicism has lost its original meaning.

    (I suppose one could capitalise the terms, to distinguish between the philosophy and the vernacular)

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