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Cynicism

Cynicism is an inspiring school of ancient Greek philosophy that has had great influence on us. We value it as the most underestimated and most important school, and think it deserves a place in the general knowledge and the curriculum of schools.

The term ‘cynicism’ comes from the old Greek word kynikos, meaning “dog-like”, because that’s how the Cynics lived in the eyes of their civilized fellow’s eyes. Free from shame, they ate and made love in public, walked around barefoot, and slept on the streets. Their shamelessness stood in direct contrast to the cultural norms of ancient Greece, but, according to the Cynics, you shouldn’t be ashamed for anything that’s natural.
They practiced a cult of indifference between humans and other animals that unsettled the public – all civilizations were fanatically anthropocentric.

Acoording to the Cynics, the purpose of life is to live in agreement with nature. People can gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which is natural for themselves, rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex, and fame. Instead, they were to lead a simple life free from all possessions.

Cynicism was a major influence for the more well-known Stoicism. The Stoic Apollodorus even wrote that “Cynicism is the short path to virtue.”

Today many people who think or live globally or reject nationalism ascribe the attribute ‘cosmopolitan’ to themselves, a concept that was invented by Diogenes, who, when asked where he came from, answered that he was a “citizen of the world” (kosmopolitês).

Diogenes of Sinope living in the streets of Athens

Diogenes of Sinope living in the streets of Athens

 

Even the historical or metaphorical figure of Jesus was most likely influenced by Cynicism. Historians have shown that Cynic ideas and Jewish thought and tradition may have collided in 1st century AD Galilee, and even if Jesus never existed and was merely a symbolic figure, whoever wrote about his alleged ‘teachings’ was strongly influenced by Cynicism. Jesus preaches a simple life without possessions, respect for every living creature and rejects authority.
Further he tells his disciples “to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics” – the basic outfit of a cynic; notably the staff, which was a typical cynic custom.

 

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