Related Books About the Book Far from being pessimistic or nihilistic, as modern uses of the term "cynic" suggest, the ancient Cynics were astonishingly optimistic regarding human nature. It was a life exemplified most famously by the eccentric Diogenes, nicknamed "the Dog," and his followers, called dog-philosophers, kunikoi, or Cynics. Rebellious, self-willed, and ornery but also witty and imaginative, these dog-philosophers are some of the most colorful personalities from antiquity. This engaging introduction to Cynicism considers both the fragmentary ancient evidence on the Cynics and the historical interpretations that have shaped the philosophy over the course of eight centuries—from Diogenes himself to Nietzsche and beyond. Approaching Cynicism from a variety of thematic perspectives as well—their critique of convention, praise of natural simplicity, advocacy of self-sufficiency, defiance of Fortune, and freedom—William Desmond offers a fascinating survey of a school of thought that has had a tremendous influence throughout history and is of continuing interest today. Cynics should serve as powerful evidence to students that they are not alone or first in their search for a life free of delusion.
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They generally tried to free themselves from the burdens of human customs and lived "Beard-growing alone does not make a philosopher" A long-winded overview of the book: This book goes into the history and influence of the Cynic "school" of philosophy. They generally tried to free themselves from the burdens of human customs and lived instead for the present in nature.
Nature they viewed as generally benign, and the world and people were good. Viewing the present as the only thing that men could truly know, it was important to bask in the here and now, rather than dwell on the past or future. Somewhat strangely for a philosophy, they were adamantly against book learning. Yet at the same time they seemed very inventive with literary styles and word play.
Witty repartee seemed highly valued by them. These philosophers were an odd lot, generally living simply, without home or employment, wandering around, stirring up trouble and generally living in the present.
They ate simply, and scandalously by eating in public and in temples. Similarly some thought nothing wrong with sex in the public arena, for if animals would do such a thing, it is natural and cannot be bad.
Rather than being fixated on patriotism and civic pride, they claimed to be "citizens of the cosmos. One fascinating way they prepared for this was to toughen themselves by being rid of the conveniences of contemporary society. No shoes, no warm clothes, no fancy hair cuts or shaving and on occasion, radically shaving half of a head to show the ridiculousness of any style, and no fancy foods perhaps even shunning cooked food although how one would eat lentils and peas raw escapes me, and those were highly touted by the Cynics.
They seemed fixated on pointing out the foibles of elitism and conspicuous consumption as foolish wastes of efforts in trying to impress others, when one should be equal and love all of mankind.
This philanthropy seemed to be a central tenet, along with self-sufficiency and speaking freely. However, this self-sufficiency often relied on begging, and the free speaking was often viewed as shameless self-promotion. Also, there were charges of hypocrisy. As for the book, it does a good job of giving the background, although the first chapter is a long and occasionally tedious list of the major players in the school. More interesting were the implications of Cynics interacting with the world, particularly the political world, and how various Cynic views reverberated down to the present day.
The contrast between Cynicism and modern cynicism is fairly wide, considering the optimism of the ancient strain and the pessimism of modern cynics. Lastly, this book has annoying references. The claim that modern day cynics must find a way to return to the cheekiness of the classics sits well with me, as well as the core cynical ideal of living naturally.
This book was incredibly informative, and well organized, a fantastic read.
The philosophy of cynicism - William D. Desmond