Today, the term ‘cynic’ brings to mind a person who has little or no faith in the goodness of the human race.
Sunday's program is about Diogenes the Cynic. Diogenes was born about 413 BCE and died in 323 BCE, the same year, and, at least according to legend, the same day as Alexander the Great, who had an unrequited admiration for Diogenes. Cynicism was a School of Philosophy that was founded in Athens by Antisthenes (455—366 BCE), a student of Socrates. The School lasted about 800 years after Diogenes, and was a major influence on Stoicism. Our modern words "cynic" and "cynicism" are historically connected to this School, but their meanings are only tangentially related to Diogenes views. These are known only by the testimony of later writers. If Diogenes did write anything, it hasn't survived.
After Diogenes, the school split into two streams, one emphasizing Diogenes-like behavior, the other, which led to Stoicism, developing his ideas. Bizarre behavior is what most people have heard about Diogenes. He walked backwards through Athens, holding a lantern in daylight, looking for a real human being. He lived in a "tub" (a large earthenware barrel). Hemasturbated, urinated, defecated, and had intercourse in public, basically having no use whatsoever for social conventions and rules. He said the cure to Oedipus’ problems would be to legalize incest. He begged for food. He rejected offers of friendship. Once he asked Plato for some wine and figs. Plato sent a whole jug of wine. Diogenes complained scathingly, accusing Plato of having no sense whatsoever, to send more than he needed or asked for. Asked by Alexander what he could do for him, Diogenes said, “Move so you don’t block the sun."
However, according to our guest, Luis E. Navia, this bizarre behavior was based on philosophical principles. (Navia is author of Diogenes the Cynic (Humanities, 2005) and a number of other works on Diogenes and other topics in classical philosophy.) Navia provides us with the twelve main tenets of Diogenes philosophy:
1. The one and only object of philosophy is human existence, and any other object can only be a source of distraction and an inconsequential way to satisfy the unhealthy sense of curiosity that afflicts human beings.
2. In our endeavor to make sense of human existence, we must direct our attention primarily to the physical world because we are primarily physical beings.
3. Live each moment as if it were the only moment of life; life is short and ephemeral.
4. Happiness cannot be attained as long as we fail to understand its nature; so the aim of philosophy must be the correct understanding happiness.
5. Happiness (eudaemonia) cannot be defined in terms of possessions, pleasures, comfort, power, fame, erudition, long life and such, as people tend to think.
6. Happiness is living in accordance with nature.
7. Reason, or clarity of mind, is what must determine what is and what is not in accordance with human nature. That is, not desire, nor emotion, or the other ingrained foolishness humans.
8. The possibility of a return to nature, understood as a return to true humanity, exists for every human being, no matter how distant he or she may be from living in accordance with nature.
9. Through discipline (askesis) we cleanse the mind of confusion and obfuscation, detrimental substances, and unnatural habits, and succeed in strengthening the will.
10. If a happy, natural and virtuous life is what we must pursue, given the social context in which we are condemned to live, it is imperative that we aim at developing in us an imperturbable and total state of self-sufficiency (autarcheia). This entails a complete renunciation of the need to need the world, and the ability to bracket away the senseless imposition society places on us.
11. (Cosmopolitanism) The world belongs equally to all its inhabitants, human and otherwise, and we, as human beings, belong to the entire world.
12. Deface the currency (what the oracle at Delphi told Diogenes), in the sense of undermining and ridiculing social conventions and unnatural desires and values.
Diogenes is one of the great characters in the history of philosophy. It should be a lively and interesting program.