Diogenes (ca. 400-ca. 325 B.C.), a Greek philosopher, was the most famous exponent of Cynicism, which called for a closer imitation of nature, the repudiation of most human conventions, and complete independence of mind and spirit.

The son of Hicesias, Diogenes was born in Sinope. He arrived in Athens after he and his father had been exiled from their native city for debasing the coinage in some way. His life in Athens was one of great poverty, but it was there that he adopted Antisthenes's teachings and became the chief exponent of Cynicism.

Although late authors attribute many works to Diogenes, none survives. One persistent tradition is that he wrote tragedies, perhaps to show that the misfortunes celebrated in the works of that genre could have been averted through the way of life which he taught. Because of his great notoriety and because many people in antiquity considered him the founder of Cynicism, a body of legend soon grew up about him and obscured the true accounts of his life. One certainty is that he developed a caustic wit which he used unsparingly on his contemporaries to show them the utter disregard in which he held their conventions and beliefs. The date and place of his death are uncertain, although it is unlikely that he lived later than 325 B.C.

Diogenes was not famous for developing a strong theoretical argument for his way of life. Antisthenes, the pupil of Socrates, was his inspiration, and he put into practice his master's teachings in a way which made a striking impression upon his contemporaries. Indeed, it was Diogenes's application of Antisthenes's principles which gained for him the notoriety he enjoyed. His goals were self-sufficiency, a tough and ascetic way of life, and anaideia, or shamelessness.

The first was the ultimate goal at which the Cynic life aimed. It involved a search for true happiness through the realization that wealth, rank, honors, success, and other such worldly aims were as nothing compared with complete independence of mind. The second and third aims supported the first.

Diogenes held that through a rigorous denial of all but the barest necessities of life one could train the body to be free of the world and its delusions. Through anaideia one could show the rest of humanity the contempt in which their conventions were held.

It was perhaps this last characteristic of Diogenes and his followers which gave the sect its name, since anaideia involved carrying out acts in public which most men usually do in private. Other accounts hold that the name Cynic (doglike) derives from the Gymnasium Kynosarges in Athens, where Antisthenes taught.

Crates, Diogenes's pupil, propagated the master's teachings after his death. In addition to the influence which Diogenes had on numbers of his contemporaries, he also served as a source for the development of Stoicism.


Further Reading on Diogenes

Excellent accounts of the life of Diogenes, as it can be pieced together from various ancient traditions, may be found in D. R. Dudley, A History of Cynicism (1937), and Farrand Sayre, Diogenes of Sinope (1938). Also good, although more for the Cynics as a group than for Diogenes, is Eduard Zeller, Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy (1881; trans. 1931).