Cynism, What is Cynicism?

Cynism, What is Cynicism?

July 1, 2021 Off By Felso

Cynicism or cynicism is the teaching of the sophist Gorgias and later Antisthenes, a student of Socrates. Antisthenes founded the Cynicism School in Kynosarges Gymnasion. Cynism is also known as the Socratic doctrine created by Antisthenes and Diogenes.

Antisthenes of Athens (444-365 BC), student of Socrates, turned his back on all worldly pleasures and pretentious philosophies when he was quite old, and lived a pleasant life among the nobility, but suddenly returned to nature and preferred to live in accordance with nature. Antisthenes dressed like slaves and developed a philosophical system for himself with the understanding that “I would rather die than enjoy”. This philosophical system was also called Cynism or Cynicism.

Antisthenes began to explain the understanding of virtue he learned from his teacher in a language that everyone could understand. He opposed all kinds of possessions, slavery, family institutions, religious beliefs, and began to give good advice to those around him. What he wants to achieve is to school the idea that, through a kind of asceticism, man can gain complete independence and thus attain happiness.


Anthisthenes argued that happiness can only be achieved through virtue, and that this virtue can be possible by denying worldly pleasures (by rejecting values ​​and judgments such as property, family, religion, etc.).

According to Antisthenese, the goal of man is happiness, and happiness is realized with an inner freedom freed from all bonds. Virtue is the only thing to desire, vice is the only thing to be avoided. True virtue is achieved when a person is not attached to any value and captive. In order to achieve this, one must get rid of all passions.

One should not pursue any pleasure, desire, health, wealth, beauty, glory and honor. When the young Diogenes of Sinop (412-323 BC), the son of an arrested counterfeiter, approached him, Antisthenes disliked him and beat him with a stick and expelled him.

Diogenes is one of the most important representatives of the understanding of Cynism.

Diogenes resisted and, following the messianic words of Antisthenes, he abandoned everything and began to live like a dog. The dog-like name of the doctrine is due to Diogenes. He lived in an earthen vessel used to bury the dead and developed his philosophy through his action.

Diogenes, in a way that Antisthenes did not even think of, rejected all tradition, turned his back on all kinds of spiritual and bodily demands, and freed himself like a natural being in nature. He believed that true virtue could be attained with such freedom.

This practical philosophy of Diogenes, rather than the virtue counsels of Antisthenes, has taken hold among the people and is known as Krates, Xeniades, Oneskrites, etc. canine thinkers such as Stoicism systematized and scientificized this asceticism of the cynics, to which it owed its essential elements.

There are many cynical elements in Christianity that have passed through stoicism. The Greek word kinikhos meaning dog comes from the word kyon meaning dog. (According to some, the name of the school is derived from the Kynosarges gymnasium in which it was founded).

Cynicism’s Understanding of Virtue

Since the Cynics were against all kinds of traditions and customs, the term cynicism was also used in the sense of the character of contempt for the rules of ethics. In this sense, it means shamelessness. However, Cynicism is a Socratic school. Antisthenes, like Socrates, despises the sciences that do not aim for a moral purpose, argues that virtue can be obtained through knowledge, and finds happiness, which is the purpose of life, in virtue.

The Cynics, preferring a natural life, can be considered the pioneers of the Stoic School, in this respect, it can be claimed that they prepared Christianity. The cynics’ idea of ​​natural living is based on the sophists’ idea that human values ​​are contrary to nature. In this respect, Antisthenes benefited from the Elea doctrine of his first teacher, the sophist Gorgias.

This understanding has been continued in Islamic thought with the Melami movement. Socrates’ doctrine of virtue is polarized in the opposite direction, hedonism and cynic school teachings.


It is said that the Cynic school derives from the word kyon. Kyon means dog or dog. The Cynic school is therefore considered one of the Socratic schools.

The philosopher who made cynicism famous and thus spread it was Diogenes. Diogenes turned this teaching into action and argued that only in this way can true virtue be achieved. According to the rumor, Diagones has tended to completely isolate himself from social needs by continuing his life in a barrel.

The basic philosophical positions of the cynics are shaped by their indifferent attitude and critical approach towards the civilizational values ​​of the time. Their basic ethical principle is virtue, and what they understand from this is human freedom and living with their own inner independence. According to them, man should get rid of his dependence on all kinds of needs. Therefore, such an understanding of virtue is combined with knowledge.