Monday, February 14, 2011

Dogs and Philosophers

No doubt, Diogenes of Sinope (c. 412-323 BCE), Diogenes the Cynic, or Diogenes the Dog as he was sometimes known, was odd to say the least, preferring to live naturally on the streets emulating a dog, than to succumb to the hypocrisy of living by social norms.

From Wikipedia:

Many anecdotes of Diogenes refer to his dog-like behavior, and his praise of a dog's virtues. It is not known whether Diogenes was insulted with the epithet "doggish" and made a virtue of it, or whether he first took up the dog theme himself. The modern terms cynic and cynical derive from the Greek word kynikos, the adjective form of kyon (κύων), meaning dog. Diogenes believed human beings live artificially and hypocritically and would do well to study the dog. Besides performing natural bodily functions in public without unease, a dog will eat anything, and make no fuss about where to sleep. Dogs live in the present without anxiety, and have no use for the pretensions of abstract philosophy. In addition to these virtues, dogs are thought to know instinctively who is friend and who is foe. Unlike human beings who either dupe others or are duped, dogs will give an honest bark at the truth. Diogenes stated that "other dogs bite their enemies, I bite my friends to save them."

He thought himself a philosopher and was reported to say that “Dogs and philosophers do the greatest good and get the fewest rewards.” While cynicism is known as an ancient philosophy it doesn't seem to fit as one in that it does not have a formal theory, but is rather characterized by the unconventional behavior of its adherents; Diogenes was a prime example of cynicism taken to its logical conclusion. It became popular to portray Diogenes in his barrel outside of the city in the company of dogs, such as in this painting, Diogenes, by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1860.

There are several apocryphal stories regarding Diogenes and things he’s said and done. One of the persisting stories regards the day he met Alexander the Great who was passing by Diogenes in his tub. 
To that great Macedonian king, who considered himself the "son of a god" and to whom all had knelt in homage almost worship, the visit to Diogenes was something of a shock. He found him in one of the poorer streets, seated in his tub, enjoying the sun and utterly indifferent as to who his visitor might be. Astonished, the king said, "I am Alexander."
 The answer came as proudly, "And I am Diogenes."
 Alexander then said, "Have you no favor to ask of me?"
 "Yes," Diogenes replied, "to get out of my sunlight." 
Far from being angry with him, Alexander seemed to respect and admire a man strong enough to be indifferent to his presence, and said, "Were I not Alexander, I would be Diogenes."

Armed with this story in his subconscious, the painter Edwin Landseer saw a stray dog resting in a barrel as another, well-fed dog looked on at the stray and was inspired to produce his own canine version of the story (Alexander and Diogenes, c. 1850).

I love the way Landseer was able to portray the characteristics of pride and cynicism on the dogs. 

1 comment:

BorderWars said...

It's funny that the only other objectivist dog blogger I know just did a post on Diogenes. I'm working on one as well. Great minds, right?