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Mar 01, '11

Going back to my roots in Athens circa 490BC we fought for democracy and attempted to recreate Atlantis without the arrogance that was its downfall. It took Socrates to remind us once we were successful against the Persians that war, monetary and materialistic corruption might be our downfall. Sadly in his own life time he was proved correct. His ideas however would lead to a philosophic school of thought called Cynicism.

Cynicism in its original form, refers to the beliefs of an ancient school of Greek philosophers known as the Cynics. Their philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health, and fame, and by living a simple life free from all possessions. As reasoning creatures, people could gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which was natural for humans. They believed that the world belonged equally to everyone, and that suffering was caused by false judgments of what was valuable and by the worthless customs and conventions which surrounded society. Many of these thoughts were later absorbed into Stoicism.

The first philosopher to outline these themes was Antisthenes,

who had been a pupil of Socrates in the late 5th century BC.

He was followed by Diogenes of Sinope, who lived in a tub on the streets of Athens. Diogenes took Cynicism to its logical extremes, and came to be seen as the archetypal Cynic philosopher. He was followed by Crates of Thebes who gave away a large fortune so he could live a life of Cynic poverty in Athens.

Cynicism is one of the most striking of all the Hellenistic philosophies. It offered people the possibility of happiness and freedom from suffering in an age of uncertainty. Although there was never an official Cynic doctrine, the fundamental principles of Cynicism can be summarised as follows.

The goal of life is happiness which is to live in agreement with Nature.

Happiness depends on being self-sufficient, and a master of mental attitude.

Self-sufficiency is achieved by living a life of Virtue.

The road to virtue is to free oneself from any influence such as wealth, fame, or power, which have no value in Nature.

Suffering is caused by false judgments of value, which cause negative emotions and a vicious character.

Thus a Cynic has no property and rejects all conventional values of money, fame, power or reputation. A life lived according to nature requires only the bare necessities required for existence, and one can become free by unshackling oneself from any needs which are the result of convention. The Cynics adopted Hercules as their hero, as epitomizing the ideal Cynic. Hercules "was he who brought Cerberus, the hound of Hades, from the underworld, a point of special appeal to the dog-man, Diogenes." According to Lucian, "Cerberus and Cynic are surely related through the dog."

The Cynic way of life required continuous training, not just in exercising one's judgments and mental impressions, but a physical training as well:

[Diogenes] used to say, that there were two kinds of exercise: that, namely, of the mind and that of the body; and that the latter of these created in the mind such quick and agile impressions at the time of its performance, as very much facilitated the practice of virtue; but that one was imperfect without the other, since the health and vigour necessary for the practice of what is good, depend equally on both mind and body.

None of this meant that the Cynic would retreat from society, far from it, Cynics would live in the full glare of the public's gaze and would be quite indifferent in the face of any insults which might result from their unconventional behaviour. The Cynics are said to have invented the idea of cosmopolitanism: when he was asked where he came from, Diogenes replied that he was "a citizen of the world, (kosmopolites)."

The ideal Cynic would evangelise; as the watchdog of humanity, it was their job to hound people about the error of their ways. The example of the Cynic's life (and the use of the Cynic's biting satire) would dig-up and expose the pretensions which lay at the root of everyday conventions.

Although Cynicism concentrated solely on ethics, Cynic philosophy had a big impact on the Hellenistic world, ultimately becoming an important influence for Stoicism. The Stoic Apollodorus writing in the 2nd century BC stated that "Cynicism is the short path to virtue." The Hellenic ideal

Does the 2012 consciousness revolution lead us into this non-material realm that was envisaged but our past selves?

Dr Ian C Baillie March, 2011

Mar 01, '11
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