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 ( kúnes ) 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.
Diogenes, generally referred to as "Diogenes the Cynic", is one of the most striking figures in Greek history; at least, his personality with its eccentricities, its coarse humour, its originality, and its defiance of the commonplace, has appealed with extraordinary force to the popular imagination. His interview with Alexander, of which the simplest version is to be found in Plutarch, was greatly exaggerated by subsequent tradition. The followers of Diogenes, namely, Crates, Menedemus, and Menippus, imitated all his eccentricities and so exaggerated the anti-social elements in the Cynic system that the school finally fell into disrepute. Nevertheless, 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.
More Catholic Encyclopedia
Browse Encyclopedia by Alphabet
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Browse the Catholic Encyclopedia by Topic
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online