While I am not a cynic, I share many of their sentiments.
The Cynic school of philosophy rejects all convention, as it is not conducive to a virtuous and content life. It encourages simple living.
Although there was never an official Cynic doctrine, the fundamental principles of Cynicism can be summarised as follows:
- The goal of life is eudaimonia and mental clarity or lucidity - freedom from smoke which signified ignorance, mindlessness, folly, and conceit.
- Eudaimonia is achieved by living in accord with Nature as understood by human reason.
- Arrogance is caused by false judgments of value, which cause negative emotions, unnatural desires, and a vicious character.
- Eudaimonia, or human flourishing, depends on self-sufficiency, equanimity, arete, love of humanity, parrhesia and indifference to the vicissitudes of life.
- One progresses towards flourishing and clarity through ascetic practices which help one become free from influences – such as wealth, fame, and power – that have no value in Nature. Examples include Diogenes' practice of living in a tub and walking barefoot in winter.
- A Cynic practices shamelessness or impudence and defaces the nomos of society; the laws, customs, and social conventions which people take for granted.
- Thus a Cynic has no property and rejects all conventional values of money, fame, power and reputation. A life lived according to nature requires only the bare necessities as are necessary for existence, and one can become free by unshackling oneself from any needs which are the result of convention.
Their significant statements resonate with me. If not for the billions of people that already live on this planet, Cynicism might even be practical.
If I were to practise it, I would also have to reject Diogenes' extreme asceticism. While I have found value in minimising my needs and taking cold showers, I see no use in outright denying pleasures like sex. Some Cynics would agree with me. DL 4. 46–53:
[Bion] even criticised Socrates, saying that if he was drawn to Alcibiades but abstained from sex with him, he was a fool; and if he was not attracted to him, then there was nothing remarkable in his restraint.
Cynicism also allows me to call myself a philosopher. DL 6. 64:
A man once said to [Diogenes], "You know nothing, and yet profess to be a philosopher." "Aspiring after knowledge," he said, "already amounts to practising philosophy."
The Cynics are united by their ability to see through conventions. I remind myself to do the same regularly, and my thoughts resemble the following:
- Recognise constraints imposed by society and pre-conceived notions.
- Clarify wants and values.
- Weigh alternatives to the usual path, determining if they align with desires and values.
- Make sure the best option is practicable.
- If it is, act on that alternative.
Step four is probably of my invention; many of the Cynics didn't care about practicalities or planning. I see this as both the reason for their fame and their downfall.
If nothing else, please take an example from the Cynics' ability to reject convention, supporting values that most of us share.
Recommended reading: Anecdotes of the Cynics