Philosophy of Cynicism

02.05.2015 |

Episode #10 of the course “Brief history of Ancient philosophy”

Cynicism was a philosophy in ancient Greece that promoted humans living in accordance with the natural world, foregoing desires for modern convenience, power, and wealth. The creator of cynicism, Antisthenes, was a follower of Socrates and founded the cynicism school of thought around the 5th century BCE. No texts from the cynics have survived, and the knowledge scholars have of the specifics of their philosophy survives in hearsay and short aphorisms. Cynics are said to have often given up material possessions for a life of begging and preaching on the street, believing that a life of rigorous training that led to virtue was a life of true happiness.

Cynics are frequently seen as unconventional. They buck the norms of the social system in which they live, because to a cynic, the most important values are those that allow a person to live a life according to the ideals of freedom, self-sufficiency, and reason. Cynics see natural order in the universe and promote a “survival of the fittest” kind of attitude. Social conventions restricted cynics from exercising this natural order to its obvious conclusions. Cynics took on hardship and suffering in order to draw attention to the social conventions that limit freedom and create the inhumanities seen in ancient Greek society, such as slavery.

Cynicism became more popular in ancient Rome but finally fell out of popularity in about the 5th century CE. Similar ideas about self-sacrifice became a part of early Christian teachings, and eventually cynicism experienced a resurgence in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, although in a modernized form. The cynics were the first group of philosophers to truly value free speech; they thought the most free speech was when witty words which subverted the status quo were spoken without fear.


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