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Philosophers

Antisthenes

Antisthenes, a Cynic philosopher, the son of Antisthenes, an Athenian, was the founder of the sect of the Cynics, which of all the Greek schools of philosophy was perhaps the most devoid of any scientific purpose. He flourished B. C. 366 (Diod. xv. 76), and his mother was a Thracian (Suidas, s. v.; Diog. Laert. vi. 1), though some say a Phrygian, an opinion probably derived from his replying to a man who reviled him as not being a genuine Athenian citizen, that the mother of the gods was a Phrygian. In his youth he fought at Tanagra (B. C. 426), and was a disciple first of Gorgias, and then of Socrates, whom he never quitted, and at whose death he was present (Plat. Phaed.59). He never forgave his master's persecutors, and is even said to have been instrumental in procuring their punishment (Diog. Laert. vi. 10). He survived the battle of Leuctra (B. C. 371), as he is reported to have compared the victory of the Thebans to a set of schoolboys beating their master (Plut. Lycurg. 30), and died at Athens, at the age of 70 (Eudocia, Violarium). He taught in the Cynosarges, a gymnasium for the use of Athenians born of foreign mothers, near the temple of Hercules. Hence probably his followers were called Cynics, though the Scholiast on Aristotle (Brandis) deduces the name from the habits of the school, either their dog-like neglect of all forms and usages of society, sleeping in tubs and in the streets, and eating whatever they could find, or from their shameless insolence, or else their pertinacious adherence to their own opinions, or lastly from their habit of driving from them all whom they thought unfit for a philosophical life. His writings were very numerous, and chiefly dialogues, some of them being vehement attacks on his contemporaries, as on Alcibiades in the second of his two works entitled Cyrus, on Gorgias in his Archelaus and a most furious one on Plato in his Satho (Athen. v). His style was pure and elegant, and Theopompus even said that Plato stole from him many of his thoughts (Athen. xi) Cicero, however, calls him "homo acutus magis quam eruditus" (ad. Att. xii. 38), and it is impossible that his writings could have deserved any higher praise. He possessed considerable powers of wit and sarcasm, and was fond of playing upon words; saying, for instance, that he would rather fall among korakes than kolakes, for the one devour the dead, but the other the living ; and that one of his pupils stood in need bibliariou kainou, kai grapheiou kainou (i. e. kai nou). Two declamations of his are preserved, named Ajax and Ulysses, which are purely rhetorical, and an epistle to Aristippus is attributed to him.
  His philosophical system was almost confined to ethics. In all that the wise man does, he said, he conforms to perfect virtue, and pleasure is not only unnecessary to man, but a positive evil. He is reported to have held pain and even infamy (adoxia) to be blessings, and that madness is preferable to pleasure, though Ritter thinks that some of these extravagances must have been advanced not as his own opinions, but those of the interlocutors in his dialogues. According to Schleiermacher (Anmerkungen zum Phileb. S. 204), the passage in the Philebus, which mentions the theory, that pleasure is a mere negation, and consists only in the absence of pain, refers to the opinions of Antisthenes; and the statement in Aristotle (Eth. Nic. x. 1), that some persons considered pleasure wholly worthless (komidei phaulon) is certainly an allusion to the Cynical doctrine. It is, however, probable that he did not consider all pleasure worthless, but only that which results from the gratification of sensual or artificial desires, for we find him praising the pleasures which spring ek tes psuches (Xen. Symp. iv. 41), and the enjoyments of a wisely chosen friendship. (Diog. Laert. vi. 11.) The summum bonum he placed in a life according to virtue,-- virtue consisting in action, and being such, that when once obtained it is never lost, and exempts the wise man from the chance of error. That is, it is closely connected with reason, but to enable it to develop itself in action, and to be sufficient for happiness, it requires the aid of energy (Sokratike idchus); so that we may represent him as teaching, that the summum bonum, arete, is attainable by teaching (didakton), and made up of phronesis and ischus. But here he becomes involved in a vicious circle, for when asked what phronesis is, he could only call it an insight into the good, having before made the good to consist in phronesis (Plat. Rep. vi.). The negative character of his ethics, which are a mere denial of the Cyrenaic doctrine, is further shewn in his apophthegm, that the most necessary piece of knowledge is to kaka apomathein, while in his wish to isolate and withdraw the sage from all connexion with others, rendering him superior even to natural affection and the political institutions of his country, he really founds a system as purely selfish as that of Aristippus.
  The Physicus of Antisthenes contained a theory of the nature of the gods (Cic. de Nat. Deor. i. 13), in which he contended for the Unity of the Deity, and that man is unable to know him by any sensible representation, since he is unlike any being on earth (Clem. Alex. Strom. v.). He probably held just views of providence, shewing the sufficiency of virtue for happiness by the fact, that outward events are regulated by God so as to benefit the wise. Such, at least, was the view of his pupil Diogenes of Sinope, and seems involved in his own statement, that all which belongs to others is truly the property of the wise man. Of his logic we hear that he held definitions to be impossible, since we can only say that every individual is what it is, and can give no more than a description of its qualities, e. g. that silver is like tin in colour (Arist. Met. viii. 3). Thus he, of course, disbelieved the Platonic system of ideas, since each particular object of thought has its own separate essence. This also is in conformity with the practical and unscientific character of his doctrine, and its tendency to isolate noticed above. He never had many disciples, which annoyed him so much that he drove away those who did attend his teaching, except Diogenes, who remained with him till his death. His staff and wallet and mean clothing were only proofs of his vanity, which Socrates told him he saw through the holes of his coat. The same quality appears in his contempt for the Athenian constitution and social institutions generally, resulting from his being himself debarred from exercising the rights of a citizen by the foreign extraction of his mother. His philosophy was evidently thought worthless by Plato and Aristotle, to the former of whom he was personally hostile. His school is classed by Ritter among the imperfect Socraticists; after his death his disciples wandered further and further from all scientific objects, and plunged more deeply into fanatical extravagances. Perhaps some of their exaggerated statements have been attributed to their master. The fragments which remain of his writings have been collected by Winckelmann (Antisthenes, Fragmenta, Turici, 1842), and this small work, with the account of him by Ritter (Gesch. der Philosophie, vii. 4) will supply all the information which can be desired. Most of the ancient authorities have been given in the course of this article. We may add to them Arrian, Epictet. iii. 22, iv. 8, 11; Lucian, Cynic. iii; Julian, Orat. vii.

This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited May 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


   A Greek philosopher of Athens, born about B.C. 440, but only a half-citizen, because his mother was a Thracian. He was in his youth a pupil of Gorgias, and himself taught for a time as a sophist, till, towards middle life, he attached himself to Socrates, and became his bosom friend. After the death of Socrates, in B.C. 399, he established a school in the gymnasium Kunosarges, the only one open to persons of half-Athenian descent, whence his followers bore the name of Cynici (Kunikoi). He lived to the age of seventy. Like Socrates, he regarded virtue as necessary-- indeed, alone sufficient--for happiness, and to be a branch of knowledge that could be taught, and that once acquired could not be lost, its essence consisting in freedom from wants by the avoidance of evil (by evil meaning pleasure and desire). Its acquisition needs no dialectic argumentation, only Socratic strength. His pupils, especially the famous Diogenes of Sinope, degraded his doctrine to cynicism by depreciating all knowledge and despising the current morality of the time. His philosophical and rhetorical works are lost, all but two slight declamations on the contest for the arms of Achilles, the Aias and Odysseus; and even their genuineness is disputed.

This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


   Cynici, (Kunikoi). A name given to the followers of Antisthenes who founded a distinct school of philosophy at Athens about B.C. 380. Antisthenes had been a pupil of Socrates, and, like that philosopher, he taught that speculative philosophy was unprofitable, and should be supplanted by the practical ethical teaching whose end is a moral and tranquil life. In this respect the Cynic School was like the Stoic, but differed in defining virtue to be extreme simplicity in living. This simplicity the followers of Antisthenes pushed so far as to violate the most elementary notions of cleanliness and even decency, and to plunge into the most frantic excesses of austerity, wearing filthy clothing, eating raw meat, and treating all who approached them with insulting rudeness. Hence the name Kunikoi, "dog-like," was applied to them in its literal meaning, from their snarling insolence, though the name probably originated from the Gymnasium Cynosarges, in which Antisthenes first taught. The most famous of the Cynics, Diogenes of Sinope, accepted the name Kuon with a sort of pride, and was pleased to be styled "Diogenes the Dog," saying, however, that he did not, like other dogs, bite his enemies, but only his friends and for their own good. Besides Antisthenes and Diogenes, the best known Cynics were Crates of Thebes, Hipparchia and her brother Metrocles, Monimus of Syracuse, Menippus of Sinope, whom Lucian describes as "one of the ancient dogs who barks a great deal"; and at Rome, Demetrius, the friend of Seneca, Oenomaus of Gadara, and Demonax of Cyprus. Cynicism became ultimately merged in Stoicism.

This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


Cynic School of Philosophy

  The Cynic School, founded at Athens about 400 B.C., continued in existence until about 200 B.C. It sprang from the ethical doctrine of Socrates regarding the necessity of moderation and self-denial. With this ethical element it combined the dialectical and rhetorical methods of the Eleatics and the Sophists. Both these influences, however, it perverted from their primitive uses; the Socratic ethics was interpreted by the Cynics into a coarse and even vulgar depreciation of knowledge, refinement, and the common decencies, while the methods of the Eleatics and the Sophists became in the hands of the Cynics an instrument of contention (Eristic Method) rather than a means of attaining truth.
  The Cynic contempt for the refinements and conventions of polite society is generally given as the reason for the name dogs (kunes) by which the first representatives of the school were known. According to some authorities, however, the name Cynic arose from the fact that the first representatives of the school were accustomed to meet in the gymnasium of Cynosarges.
  The founder of the school was Antisthenes, an Athenian who was born about 436 B.C., and was a pupil of Socrates. The best known among his followers are Diogenes of Sinope, Crates, Menedemus, and Menippus. Antisthenes himself seems to have been a serious thinker and a writer of ability. In his theory of knowledge he advocated individualistic sensism as opposed to Plato's intellectualistic theory of ideas; that is to say, he taught that the sense-perceived individual alone exists and that there are no universal objects of knowledge. In ethics he maintained that virtue is the only good and that pleasure is always and under all conditions an evil. Self-control, he said, is the essence of virtue, and a wise man will learn above all things to despise material needs and the artificial comforts in which worldly men find happiness.
  There were in the Cynic philosophy elements, especially the ethical element, which later became a source of genuine inspiration in the Stoic School. This element, combined with the broader Stoic idea of the usefulness of intellectual culture and the more enlightened Stoic concept of the scope of logical discussion, reappeared in the philosophy of Zeno and Cleanthes, and was the central ethical doctrine of the last great system of philosophy in Greece.

William Turner, ed.
Transcribed by: Rick McCarty
This extract is cited June 2003 from The Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent online edition URL below.


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