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II - ANTISTHENES AND THE CYNICS


Aristippus, in his praises of pleasure as the one good for man, remarks that there were some who refused pleasure “from perversity of mind,” taking pleasure, so to speak, in the denial of pleasure. The school of the Cynics made this perverse mood, as Aristippus deemed it, the maxim of their philosophy. As the Cyrenaic school was the school of the rich, the courtly, the self-indulgent, so the Cynic was the school of the poor, the exiles, the ascetics. Each was an extreme expression of a phase of Greek life and thought, though there was this point of union between them, that liberty of a kind was sought by both. The Cyrenaics claimed liberty to please themselves in the choice of their enjoyments; the Cynics sought liberty through denial of enjoyments.

Both, moreover, were cosmopolitan; they mark the decay of the Greek patriotism, which was essentially civic, and the rise of the wider but less intense conception of humanity. Aristippus, in a conversation with Socrates (Xenoph. Memor. II. i.) on the qualifications of those who are fitted to be magistrates, disclaims all desire to hold such a position himself. “There is,” he says, “to my thinking, a middle way, neither of rule nor of slavery, but of freedom, which leads most surely to true happiness. So to avoid all the evils of partisanship and faction I nowhere take upon me the position of a citizen, but in every city remain a sojourner and a stranger.” And in like manner Antisthenes the Cynic, being asked how a man should approach politics, answered, “He will approach it as he will fire, not too near, lest he be burnt; not too far away, lest he starve of cold.” And Diogenes, being asked of what city he was, answered, “I am a citizen of the world.” The Cynic ideal, in fact, was summed up in these four words—wisdom, independence, free speech, liberty.


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