Monday, November 03, 2014

Dogs and cynics

The Daily Mail and caveman talk - an expert writes:
"‘Kuon’, meaning dog, evolved to give us canine, kennel, and also cynic — a word coined for a sect of ancient Greek philosophers, who believed life’s luxuries were a sham.
"They earned their nickname because they had sex in the street, like dogs."

Not quite what I always understood. Perhaps the Mail was editing the extracts down a little too hard.
Wikipedia quotes an ancient commentator:

"There are four reasons why the Cynics are so named. First because of the indifference of their way of life, for they make a cult of indifference and, like dogs, eat and make love in public, go barefoot, and sleep in tubs and at crossroads. The second reason is that the dog is a shameless animal, and they make a cult of shamelessness, not as being beneath modesty, but as superior to it. The third reason is that the dog is a good guard, and they guard the tenets of their philosophy. The fourth reason is that the dog is a discriminating animal which can distinguish between its friends and enemies. So do they recognize as friends those who are suited to philosophy, and receive them kindly, while those unfitted they drive away, like dogs, by barking at them.[7]"

The IEP says:

"The precise source of the term “Cynic” is, however, less important than the wholehearted appropriation of it. The first Cynics, beginning most clearly with Diogenes of Sinope, embraced their title: they barked at those who displeased them, spurned Athenian etiquette, and lived from nature. In other words, what may have originated as a disparaging label became the designation of a philosophical vocation."

The cynics mocked not only social rules but also the pretence of knowledge, so they barracked philosophers, whom they regarded as bullsh*tters. For example:

"When Plato gave Socrates' definition of man as "featherless bipeds" and was much praised for the definition, Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it into Plato's Academy, saying, "Behold! I've brought you a man.""

It is easy to imagine them yapping at the profs holding forth, indicating that their noise made as much sense as what was coming out of the philosophers' mouths. Radical honesty, that's a cynic.


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