Cynicism (philosophy)

The Cynicism [ kynɪsmʊs ] ( ancient Greek κυνισμός, kynismós, literally " Underdog File ") was a stream of ancient philosophy. The term cynicism was originally also used for the teaching of the Cynics, but get a different meaning in today's parlance.

The first and still most famous Cynic were on the 5th and 4th centuries BC Antisthenes and Diogenes of Sinope his pupil. Other representatives took Cynicism to the 3rd century BC In the 2nd and 1st century BC, the flow dried up almost completely and lived only once during the Roman imperial period on. The last ancient Cynics was Salustios of Emesa in the second half of the 5th century. Of the numerous writings of the Cynics not only is completely preserved, handed down are just a few fragments. What is known about the biographies and philosophical teachings of the Cynics, is therefore taken almost exclusively reports of other ancient authors.

Although Antisthenes who taught in Kynosarges, the Cynics were not organized, as opposed to other ancient trends of philosophy as a school with teaching operation. It was at the Cynics rather isolated itinerant preacher or philosopher with similar views. Nevertheless, these compounds were accompanied by other contemporary schools of philosophy determines how the older Stoics, passed to the personal connections. Also the philosophy of Epicureanism consist thematic links ( about historical can only speculate ).

The starting point of Cynic teaching is an ethical skepticism. Since neither the various traditions nor the changing needs can justify ethical standards for the Cynics, they aspired to frugality and naturalness. This was associated with a rejection of culturally justified shame ( eg nudity ) and possession, which they regarded as mere conventions. Often Cynics lived as an itinerant preacher of charity. One of their main tasks saw the Cynics in the increase of the ethical consciousness of their fellow citizens, but not by instruction, but through satire and provocation. In addition to the rejection and skepticism that they brought possession and customs found in later times a mythological element in the form of worship of the demigod Heracles, who is said to have been regarded as a model because of its independence and strength, and alternative mystery cults (see cult of the dead in the Greek antiquity ), by which it rejected the rituals of the city religions.

  • 4.1 founder
  • 4.2 Other representatives
  • 4.3 Literary Cynicism
  • 4.4 Cynicism among the Romans
  • 5.1 antiquity
  • 5.2 Modern Times

Origin of the name

The origin of the name " Cynicism " is unclear. Diogenes Laertius reports in the 3rd century by people who claim that it is derived from the word kynosarges. The Kynosarges was the Athenian gymnasium, who taught in the Antisthenes. Another, also existing since ancient derivation starts from the ancient Greek word κύων ( kyon ), the German translation " dog " is. In this case, the name should probably establish a relationship of Cynic Live manner and teaching to the animal kingdom. " Dog" was also the name Schimpf, who was allegedly awarded Diogenes in Corinth.

However, these theories awaken in modern research increasingly wary as purely linguistic derivation of kynosarges is unlikely. In addition, no report exists, according to the later Cynics - that is, according to Antisthenes - are in any way connected with this school. Rather, the interest behind it could stand to upgrade the Cynicism in retrospect to a school in the tradition of Socrates and to make him equally with the Platonic Academy and the Lyceum, even if there had been a movement might be more independent itinerant preacher. The plausible explanation is that the Cynics were named kyon after the word, according to Niehues - Pröbsting is not entirely conclusive.


Since no writings left by the Cynics, their historical picture mainly from reports and legends, in particular the school's founder Diogenes coined. It should be noted that the figure of Diogenes, but also the entire teaching of Cynicism already highly polarized in antiquity. The reports are therefore either characterized by an idealization of Diogenes to the infallible ethical role model or they reject his views, distort ridicule and censure Diogenes ' lifestyle as immoral. The often only anecdotal traditions were hardly questioned, given the fact gaping gaps surprisingly little concern. Thus it has been long accepted uncritically, for example, that almost all the ancient material on Cynicism is three to five hundred years younger than the first Cynics and that only a relatively small number of representatives of the " Cynic school" was known.

Diogenes Laertius has handed the names of writings of the Cynics, who has it, it actually existed, is unclear. From Antisthenes he enumerates, for example, over 70 titles.

An access to the historic Cynicism is therefore difficult to obtain. The majority of sources via the Cynicism comes from third-hand, by Marcus Tullius Cicero and Diogenes Laertius (3rd century), who treated the Cynics in the 10 books of his work 6 About the life and teachings of famous philosophers. That from Cynicism only little material is obtained, for several reasons. For one, it is because you have denied the Cynicism in ancient times as a genuine school of philosophy, as it is more likely to handle a life form. Indeed, there are but a few cynics, the very detailed dealt with the literature. They include Monimos and Crates: - were known primarily for their literary activity as a satirist and moralist - in contrast to Diogenes. Crates wrote parodic tragedies, hymns, elegies and letters that have gone all lost. But Antisthenes is said to have written a ten volume work on the doctrines of Cynicism (of which, however, only fragments survive ). The majority has been lost over time and only a few works have been partially preserved (see also Books losses in late antiquity ).


Because of the bad tradition position the teachings of the Cynics of the anecdotes are often reconstructed with recourse to the related doctrine of the Stoics. Although Cynicism has exerted strong influence on the Stoics, but the history of philosophy leads easily to the mixing of a chimera " kynisierenden stoicism ".


The ultimate goal is for the Cynics, as for most other nachsokratischen schools, the achievement of happiness of the individual. The way there, the wish to tread the Cynics, is very similar to that of the Stoics: After the Cynic doctrine of happiness is based on internal independence and self-sufficiency. This inner freedom, in turn, can be achieved by virtue, is thus sufficient for happiness for yourself. She was the only true value; all other supposed goods are in fact evil, or at least irrelevant to a blissful life. Notwithstanding the Stoics, they have an involvement in the pursuit of other goods back active, while the Stoics recommend passive restraint.

What is the real virtue, the Cynics seem to have no further definition. Most likely we will find an answer in the anecdotes that have been written about the Cynic: Cynic is the primary virtue to be understood as avoidance of evil and frugality. The latter ensures the inner freedom and leads to another principle of Cynicism: the orientation to nature. What is, of course, could be neither bad nor a reason to be ashamed of. Thus, for the Cynics, for example, the public life of Diogenes or the open door of Krates and Hipparchia not scandalous, but natural and normal. One kind model presented the animals, since they offer the one hand, approaches to criticism of the human society, on the other hand also - as the Cynics were convinced - brought a positive guide to a happy and correct, nature-friendly life.

But even if the frugality ensures the self-sufficiency, so it leads to the negation of the traditional customs, norms and laws, culture, art and family, to the excitement of public nuisance. This must be taken into account, are even expected: By frugality but the fate offered as little attack surface: who owns nothing, it can not be disappointed because he can not lose anything. Why are the biggest obstacles on the path to happiness craving, anxiety (eg, before misfortunes ) and ignorance. For it is only by virtue knowledge can be learned if you are also willing to put what they learned. The Cynicism is in his teachings and its implementation so very radical: all external, worldly things to be stored, because they make you unhappy and are contrary to nature.

The means by which the Cynics " bite " to by a to replace the existing order more "natural ", are the antecedents of poverty, provocation and satire and ridicule in the form of severe penitential sermons, which, by striking an aggressive style of the presentation, extreme imagery vividness and crude are in the so-called Diatribe ( διατριβή ). This also use Stoics, especially Seneca, and transform them into a loose, held in the popular sound moral-philosophical speech. This turned to a wide lay audience, so as to educate through fun teaching and influence in the style of the early Christian preaching very strong. Often, the Cynics were also eager to attract attention by scandals, to give her protest against the existing conditions reprint.

During the Hellenistic Cynicism was thus aligned very individualistic, but this changed over the centuries. The Cynicism of the Roman Empire - quite the opposite to the Cynicism of Diogenes - wore almost religious overtones. The social being now played a major role. The only thing that did not change were the uncompromising attitudes towards asceticism and frugality. So it is hardly surprising that the Cynicism disappeared with the end of antiquity as an independent philosophy direction. Only in Stoicism lived some basic thoughts on.

The Stoa follows the same ethical principles as in Cynicism. But while for the Cynics, the nature contemporary life that goes hand in hand with frugality is a way to escape the fate of Ananke, as far as possible, means for the Stoics " secundum naturam vivere " ( Zenon ), that the life of reason is determined, as it allows us to recognize that wealth or prestige are only supposed good fortune. Not avoiding the fate of a separation of natural and unnatural needs, but an apathetic indifference to the needs, the goal is not to avoid fate, but the acceptance of the obligations and duties arising from the accidents of birth and suitability.

The attempt by the Cynics to escape the public world, is criticized by the Stoa that as one's own ego, which is still struggling with problems, worries and fears, happiness stands in the way.

"You're from the missteps of the spirit fled: your face is not adjusted, your speech is hypocritical not by any foreign will and the heart is not shrouded by darkness by greed, which, whatever they took away all grudged himself, nor fully extravagance that wasted the assets very shameful to make it even more shameful to bring in again, you have no ambition who does not take you to prestige, except by unworthy ( behavior): you still have not achieved anything, many have shunned, do not even yet. "


The ancient Greek word for cosmopolitanism emerges for the first time on in connection with the Cynic Diogenes of Sinope. When asked where he was from, he replied that he was citizen of the world ( cosmopolitan ). This statement will probably show a contrast with contemporary views, which every free man, first citizens of a polis and secondly Greek ( in contrast to the non-Greek barbarians ) was under.

History of Cynicism

Shall be considered as representative of Cynicism

  • In the 5th and 4th centuries BC Antisthenes,
  • In the 4th century BC, Diogenes of Sinope,
  • In the 4th and 3rd centuries BC Onesicritus ( historian ), Crates of Thebes and Hipparchia, Bion of Borysthenes,
  • In the 3rd century BC Menippos of Gadara ( writer ), Teles of Megara, Kerkidas ( writer )
  • In the 1st century BC, Meleager of Gadara ( writer ) and
  • During the Roman imperial period Demetrios ( 1st century ), Dio Chrysostom (1st and 2nd century), Demonax, Peregrinus Proteus (both 2nd century ), Salustios from Emesa ( 5th century).

Little to hardly anything is known about the 4th or 3rd century BC Cynic make Philiscus of Aegina, Monimos, Metrokles and Menedemus.


As the founder of Cynicism of Socrates pupil Antisthenes and Diogenes of Sinope apply his pupil. Antisthenes was active in the 5th and 4th, Diogenes of Sinope in the 4th century BC.

Antisthenes advised to withdraw from political life and the old values ​​in favor of a nature- life that is less of disappointments with it. The most important pupil of Antisthenes was Diogenes of Sinope, the most famous Cynic and real founder of Cynicism as a life form and philosophical school. Pupil of Diogenes were Monimos and Crates of Thebes, which in turn the teacher of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism was. This Cynicism and Stoicism can be equally applicable to Antisthenes and so on Socrates traced. The factors set out in ancient pedigrees of the schools of philosophy, who attribute all nachsokratischen schools to Socrates, however, should be viewed with historical reticence.

Unlike Antisthenes and Diogenes the Cynic others do not pull completely out of the public of the polis back, but provoke and go in opposition to the existing order of which they guessed that she is doomed.

In the tradition to Diogenes tells us nothing that could not be doubted. Not even his historical existence is clearly detectable, it is only found in a single contemporary author mentioned in Theophrastus. Even in the new Greek comedy, which otherwise is one of the main sources of information about the public impact of Greek philosophers, come from the Cynics only Monimos and Crates to as figures. Only with this on Diogenes next generation of Cynicism is historically accurate tangible. All registered under his name fonts were already explained in Antiquity to be spurious.

One of the most famous anecdotes about Diogenes, yes one of the most popular stories of the ancient world in general, is the encounter with Alexander the Great. Alexander is said to have visited Diogenes and granted him a wish, whereupon he replied disrespectful: Get out of my sun!

Other representatives

Symbolically, the act by which Monimos put the beginning of his Cynic life: He was employed by a money changer. When he heard about a business friend of his master of Diogenes, he was so excited that he turned mad and as long as the coins and all silver coins scrambled it until he was released.

More Cynics of this period were the former historian Onesicritus, Zoilos of Amphipolis, Menedemus and the brother of Hipparchia, Metrokles.

Of Crates is recorded that he was born rich, but given away his fortune and that of his wife Hipparchia favor of a cynical beggar life to his fellow citizens or have added a part for his children on the side, in the event that they would not philosophers (as philosophers they had the wealth is not needed). He also said to be the friendliest people of the Cynics and not having the nickname " Türenöffner " because he had access to every home for his kindness and his good advice. However, this had the effect that was reported by Diogenes the abolition of the separation of public and private for Crates. He and his wife are said to have slept in public together.

Main features of the written works of Monismos and Crates that are handed down from second-hand, is a satirical tone, the " spoudogeloion " that connects serious moral problems with the ridiculous.

Literary Cynicism

From about 300 BC creates a flow of Cynicism, come to the fore in the parody and satire at the expense of philosophical content. Representatives of the movement are Bion, Menippos, Teles of Megara, Kerkidas and Meleager.

Cynicism among the Romans

Prominent representatives of the Roman Cynicism during the Roman imperial period were Demetrius, Dion Chrysostom, Demonax, Peregrinus and Oenomaus.

In the year 362, the Roman Emperor Julian wrote two speeches ( Against the Cynic Heraclius and counter the uneducated dogs), which were directed against contemporary Cynics. In the first Heraclius is criticized because he has spoken out against the gods and the emperor; in the second the Roman Cynics are compared as ordinary Cynics Cynics old as the true cynics. As with Epictetus is found in Julian a stoic embossed idealization of the original Cynicism.



Seneca admired his contemporaries, the Cynic Demetrius, for his frugality and imperturbability. Epicurus described the ideal Cynic as detached from his environment witnesses and preachers of God. In addition to such appreciative positive reviews but there is also repeated criticism of the Cynic parasitism, the unkempt appearance of the Cynics and the often provocative harassment of their fellow men.

Modern Times

When you were in search of ancient ideals of life in 17th century France, Cynicism entered the field of view of modern recipients. At this time we sat Cynicism with a disregard for social conventions alike. In this meaning, the word from the 18th century is also used in Germany. In general, the modern concept of history is closely intertwined with the history of the term " cynicism ".

Source collections

  • Gabriele Gianna Toni ( ed.): Socratis et Socraticorum Reliquiae, Volume 2, Bibliopolis, Naples, 1990, sections VA to VN ( online)
  • Malte Hossenfelder: Antique luck teachings. Cynicism and Kyrenaismus, Stoicism, Epicureanism and skepticism. Sources in German translation with introductions, Kröner, Stuttgart 1996
  • Georg Luck: The wisdom of dogs. Texts of the ancient Cynics in German translation and notes, Kröner, Stuttgart 1996