Diogenes of Sinope (-412 to -323), philosopher dog and citizen of the universe, was a Cynic philosopher who lived in a tub in Athens. He went about the streets with a lamp lit in the middle of the day looking for an honest man. Alexander the Great admired Diogenes so much that he offered him whatever he wanted. Diogenes, who was sunning himself at the time, asked him to move out of his light.
Diogenes was a Cynic. The Cynics were one of the five schools of Greek philosophy. He did not found the school – that was done by his teacher Antisthenes, a friend of Socrates. He was, however, its most famous member.
No one is sure how the Cynics got their name – Cynic means “like a dog” in Greek. Most likely because Diogenes himself lived like a dog: in the street, having no bodily shame whatsoever, doing everything in public. Yes, everything. Yes, that too. And that. Plato said he was like Socrates gone mad.
The influence of Diogenes was so great that he even affected the Stoics, another school of philosophy. The Stoics count him as one of their own. They see him and Socrates as the two wisest men who ever lived.
His influence extends more through the Stoics than through his own Cynics. That is because the Stoics went on to influence the Romans and Christians.
What Diogenes taught both Cynics and Stoics:
- Live according to nature, which means living according to reason. This leads to virtue which leads to happiness.
- The distinction between outer goods, like wealth, power and even health, and the inner goods of the soul. Outer goods come and go, so it is foolish to pin your happiness on them. Inner goods are the truest, highest and most lasting goods of all.
- The best way to train the soul is to live simply, to do without, to live in poverty. It is the only way to be truly free.
- Ethics, how best to live, is the chief concern of philosophy.
- Men and gods are all part of a commonwealth that
extends far beyond any city or country. Diogenes said he was a citizen of the universe.
From here the two schools part ways.
Diogenes and the Cynics took living in poverty far more seriously. When Diogenes gave up everything he kept his cup. But when he saw a boy drink with his hands, he gave up his cup too.
The example of nature that the Stoics lived by was God and his will. God is the creator and soul of nature. Diogenes, however, followed the dog as his guide to nature.
By living like a dog he opposed nature and reason to human custom and vanity. He showed up the false sort of life that most of us live.
Diogenes said that a good chorus master will sing a bit too high to train his chorus to sing at the right note. Diogenes’s life was like that.