Ancient Philosophy

Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy

How are dogs like cynics?

The English word “cynic” comes from the Greek “kyon,” which means “dog.” Diogenes of Synope thought people could learn much from dogs, who were not ashamed of their bodily functions, not picky eaters, and did not care where they slept. Dogs neither worry, nor care about academic philosophy, and they know immediately if someone is a friend or an enemy. What’s more, dogs, unlike humans, are honest. Like a dog, Diogenes had no use for family structures, social organizations, politics, private property, or good reputation. He is said to have masturbated in the agora (market place) and replied to those who insulted him by urinating on them. He also gestured at others with his middle finger. Plato described him as “a Socrates gone mad.”

Because of his contempt for convention and knowledge of philosophy, many considered Diogenes a man of wisdom. Alexander the Great once sought Diogenes out, when the philosopher was bathing in his wine barrel, which he did often because of a painful skin condition. When Alexander offered to give him anything in the world he wanted, Diogenes replied, “Please get out of my sunlight” (or words to that effect).


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