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Topic #G55

Diogenes of Sinope: fragments and anecdotes

11 February 2002

Scribe: Daniela Parlagreco



These minutes were not spoken; for another version, go to the spoken minutes



            After a period of feedback regarding Friday’s guest lecturer, Andrea Falcon, and some suggestions from students concerning the minutes, the professor began his discussion of Diogenes of Sinope by stating that he would continue with a theme from Friday (Cynicism) and the succession between Socrates and the Stoics. 


            Professor Hutchinson drew a diagram that shows the different kinds of influences and links between these philosophers. Socrates influenced Xenophon (who had admiration towards Socrates and wrote much about him in his own works), Plato, Aristippus (focused on the Socratic idea of free living), and Antisthenes (who was a friend of Socrates).  Epicurus was inspired by the material and ethical system of Democritus and was literarily influenced by Socrates, but places importance on the public and private pleasures of life.  Zeno was influenced by Plato and Aristippus in a literary sense, and Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle all had literary influence on the Stoics.  This succession expresses two things about Stoicism: (1) that there is zeal to understand Socratic philosophy from all of its aspects, and (2) that it is an updated Socraticism with new techniques. 

The professor then said that Stoicism treated the wise man as one who can make no mistake and that we can get help in knowing what there was by expanding knowledge.  It was then pointed out that Socrates, Antisthenes, Diogenes, Crates, unlike Zeno all rejected the idea that philosophers should be concerned with the natural sciences and said that ethics can be isolated from science.  The professor then posed the question of whether it was possible to do Socratic ethics without a deeper knowledge of the entire system (i.e.: including natural science) or do you need to know everything?  For the Stoics, people know what to do by virtue of ethics and these people are wise.  However, because most people make mistakes, truly wise people are rare.  According to the Stoics, no person was wise and virtuous by the Stoic standard, except for Socrates, Zeno of Citium, and Heracles.  Stoicism was a muscular, ambitious version of Socratic philosophy.



            Professor Hutchinson then turned to Book 6 of Diogenes Laertius and discussed Diogenes of Sinope, who was not seen as a writer.  It seems that his main mode of communication was via philosophical propaganda, whereby he ate, shouted, yelled, lived, and screwed women in the streets.  Diogenes was a philosopher who hated hypocrisy and did not mind being ridiculed and insulted.  The professor described him as an ‘angry hippie’ who used the technique of shocking people into reassessing their lives.  The only thing that appears like a serious account of Diogenes of Sinope is found in Book 6, section 70, which makes him appear to have been an extreme yet understandable philosopher. 

At this point, the professor discussed a passage concerning mental and bodily training as leading towards virtue, which the professor found to be an odd thesis that required some filling in.  He stated that virtue is a matter of your independence from need and if you can keep struggling and can keep on fighting without taking a break, then you will have the upper hand.  It has to be wondered to what degree physicality and persistence are needed to have what Diogenes of Sinope wants. It was said that the connection, however, goes back to Socrates, who did believe that physical training was important.  Evidence of this is seen in Plato’s Laches, where Socrates discusses the training of boys to become men.


            A student then asked, “are we to assume that Aristippus was physically fit and good looking, rather than fat and ugly?”  Professor Hutchinson responded by saying that it wasn’t so much that his physical person was great, rather Aristippus was able to play the part of a physically fit and good looking person.  He had a flexible mind that allowed him to exercise anything that fate might have dealt to him, so no matter what he put on, he looked his best.


            The professor then stated that Diogenes of Sinope maintained that all things are the property of the wise and of the gods.  He was often suspected of stealing things by way of making a certain point, and he ridiculed fame and wealth.  He held that the only true republic is that which is as wide as the universe.  Thus the introduction of the notion of cosmopolitan, or the idea of being a citizen of the world, rather than being a citizen of Rome.  This idea goes back all the way to Diogenes and perhaps even Aristippus, whose free thinking philosophy did not pledge allegiance to a particular place or city, but the entire universe.  That is to say that it is possible to conceive yourself as being a member of the human race and the universe, rather than, for example, a Canadian.  The word ‘cosmopolitan’ has many associated meanings, such as savvy, wise, cultured, and ‘world traveller’, but this noble ideal has been commercially exploited, for instance, for the associations it arouses in the bosoms of readers of the widely-read women’s magazine, COSMOPOLITAN.


            Diogenes of Sinope was very witty and we can see this through the anecdotes.  However he was also disagreeable, and was like a walking billboard, always trying to point out the faults of people.  It has been said that he often walked around the streets of Athens in broad daylight carrying a lamp and going up to people and shining the light in their faces.  When he was asked what he was doing, he said that he was looking for a human being.  He lived in the streets and slept in a tub – an underground storage tank for oil – so he was often dirty and unshaven.  Another story was told of Diogenes in the marketplace, where he drew criticism for eating in the market (as then, it was considered inappropriate to do so).  The professor compared this to the present, where we see many people eating all over the Eaton Centre and we don’t think this to be inappropriate. 

The root word for ‘cynic’ is found in the Greek word for doggy, which is what Diogenes was referred to as.  A dog is a very complex animal, not governed by convention.  Diogenes was considered a dog for that very reason.  Dogs did everything (including intercourse) in public, and in Ancient Greece were not domesticated animals, rather they were roaming trash eaters within the city, but not of it.  This is the type of existence that Diogenes of Sinope wanted have, so he did not mind being called a dog.  He refuelled with food and sex in the streets, and he masturbated in public as well, stating that if only he could cure his hunger by rubbing his stomach.  Diogenes was considered a “Socrates gone mad,” that is he was a wacko and a weirdo who did not respect limits.


            As one tradition holds, Diogenes was captured as a slave and sold at auction.  These stories of Diogenes the professor referred to as fictional comic stories about the character of Diogenes of Sinope rather than the person.  These stories were written in the 4th c. to reflect on the ideas that he held.  In Book 6, section 29, Menippus states that when Diogenes was up for sale and he was asked what he was able to do, his reply that he was able to govern human beings and thus asked if anyone was interested in buying a master.  The professor then demonstrated how Diogenes placed himself on the auction box and suggested that he need not stand up straight, because fish will still find a buyer no matter which way they lay on the slab.  The professor then made the point that it is possible to hold a glass or piece of ceramic up to our ear and bang on it to see if it has any flaws, yet there is no method for testing for flaws in a person.


            There was bad blood between Diogenes of Sinope and Plato, however this bad blood was not as severe as that between Antisthenes and Plato (recall the saying of Antisthenes regarding looking into the pail of Plato’s vomit and seeing bile but no pride).  Diogenes disliked both Plato and his views and often criticized them.  Diogenes did not believe in any advanced science or knowledge and to him, the road to virtue was the moral and mental push ups, that is, inuring oneself to hardships.


            Another story was brought up concerning Alexander the Great who said that if he was not Alexander the Great, he would have liked to be Diogenes of Sinope.  When Diogenes did not rise in the presence of Alexander the Great, Alexander asked Diogenes what he could do for him, to which Diogenes replied, “yes, you can get out of my sunlight – I am sunbathing!”  This displays how power did not influence Diogenes of Sinope and that he insisted on being independent.


            The conclusion of the lecture turned to Zeno, who was taught by Crates.  In Zeno’s Republic it is said that the community of wives were held in common, and this was also held by Diogenes of Sinope and Socrates, and criticized by Aristotle.


In conclusion, Professor Hutchinson reiterated that the Stoics felt the need to represent themselves as a Socratic philosophy.