Some Comments on Stoicism & Cynicism

Some excerpts from Diogenes Laertius, discussing the close relationship between ancient Cynicism and Stoicism.

Some Comments on Stoicism & Cynicism

Diogenes-Laertius_thumb.jpgDiogenes Laertius says in the prologue of his Lives of Eminent Philosophers that there were two main philosophical lineages: the Ionian, starting with Anaximander, and the Italian, starting with Pythagoras.  He then adds:

There is another which ends with Chrysippus, that is to say by passing from Socrates to Antisthenes, then to Diogenes the Cynic, Crates of Thebes, Zeno of Citium, Cleanthes, Chrysippus.

This seems to mean that he sees Stoicism as a development of Cynicism, and in some sense derived from Socrates himself; or he may mean that Stoicism can be traced back beyond Socrates to Anaximander and the Ionian tradition.  He actually seems to describe the Ionian tradition as splitting into three roughly parallel lineages, founded by Plato, Antisthenes and Aristotle respectively.  These correspond to the major Hellenistic schools of the Academy, the Cynic-Stoic tradition, and Aristotelianism, with the addition of the Epicurean school, which he claims follows the Italian succession.

However, preceding his comments about the Cynic-Stoic succession, he explains that although Socrates stood in the Ionian tradition, he “introduced ethics or moral philosophy” , which may suggest that the lineage Socrates-Cynicism-Stoicism originates in Socrates’ novel conception of moral philosophy.   It may be worth noting that Diogenes says in his chapter on Socrates that “he discussed moral questions in the workshops and the market-place, being convinced that the study of nature is no concern of ours; and that he claimed that his inquiries embraced ‘Whatso’er is good or evil in an house'”, quoting Homer.  This appears to mean that Socrates was particularly known for his concern with moral questions that, rather than being purely abstract, dealt with our daily problems of living.  Moreover, Diogenes adds:

In my opinion Socrates discoursed on physics as well as on ethics, since he holds some conversations about providence, even according to Xenophon, who, however, declares that he only discussed ethics. But Plato, after mentioning Anaxagoras and certain other physicists in the Apology, treats for his own part themes which Socrates disowned, although he puts everything into the mouth of Socrates.

This ambivalence about questions of abstract physics can certainly be found in the Stoics as well, despite the fact that their philosophical curriculum was famously divided into: Physics, Ethics and Logic.  Later, in his chapter on Antisthenes, Diogenes goes on to mention Zeno and the Stoics:

It would seem that the most manly section of the Stoic School owed its origin to him. Hence Athenaeus the epigrammatist writes thus of them:

“Ye experts in Stoic story, ye who commit to sacred pages most excellent doctrines–that virtue alone is the good of the soul: for virtue alone saves man’s life and cities.  But that Muse that is one of the daughters of Memory approves the pampering of the flesh, which other men have chosen for their aim.”

Antisthenes gave the impulse to the indifference of Diogenes, the continence of Crates, and the patient endurance of Zeno, himself laying the foundations of their state.

He concludes this chapter by saying “we will now append an account of the Cynics and Stoics who derive from Antisthenes”.  Subsequently, in the last of his chapters on Cynicism (Menedemus) he comments:

They hold further that “Life according to Virtue” is the End to be sought, as Antisthenes says in his Heracles: exactly like the Stoics. For indeed there is a certain close relationship between the two schools. Hence it has been said that Cynicism is a short cut to virtue; and after the same pattern did Zeno of Citium live his life.

However, in De Finibus, Cicero portrays the Stoic Cato as saying:

Some Stoics say that the Cynics’ philosophy and way of life is suitable for the wise person, should circumstances arise conducive to its practice.  But others rule this out altogether.

With this in mind, it’s noticeable that whereas Epictetus very frequently refers to Diogenes the Cynic as an exemplar or role-model for his students, Seneca very seldom refers to Cynicism.  Indeed, at one point Seneca lists the philosophers he most admired, all of whom were Stoics, apart from Socrates and Plato – but neither Diogenes nor any other Cynic was included by him.

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2 thoughts on “Some Comments on Stoicism & Cynicism”

  1. Very interesting and useful. Supports the cynic-stoic link, and the descent from socrates. Suppose I have always thought that Diogenes needs Socrates to explain him, for us to understand him as something more than a ‘performance artist’ -anarchist. Wd love to hear more.