My Disagreement With Cynic Discourses
Updated: Nov 5, 2022
Cynicism is an interpretation of a way of life first offered by Diogenes of Sinope. Cynics believe that the social norms limit the freedom of an individual by establishing a code of behavior. They believe that one should be living in accordance with nature and rejecting the social norms, as these norms are contradictory with reason and nature. Cynics also give high importance to virtue, as they argue that the humans are by nature virtuous, and to be able to not hinder their virtue, people should be rejecting the norms and replacing them with nature, reason, and virtue. After they reject the social values, Cynics try to reinforce their life in accordance with nature by askesis, which could be translated as training. They train themselves for their life by conducting some practices which prepare them for that kind of life (Piering, n.d.).
The approach of Cynics is seemingly a more feasible way to choose as the way to live, mostly as it includes examination rather than merely conducting what the society imposes on its individuals. Moreover, Cynicism also complies with the Aristotelian view by examination, that humans are distinguished from other creatures with their rationality (Aristotle, 1905). Although the approach seems spotless at the first glance, I argue that there are some problems related to the statements of Cynicism. I believe that the complete rejection of the social norms is non- compliant with the actual practice of the approach. Ultimately, I conclude that Cynicism should be rejected, as the social norms are a part of the human nature.
In the following, I try to argue why exactly the approach should be rejected by elaborating on the crucial points that disprove the idea of Cynicism being completely separated from society and being independent from the social norms. Furthermore, I argue that the idea itself is a social norm given that a group of people adopt the idea.
After introducing the concepts related to my conclusion about Cynicism, I will now present my argumentation. First, I want to discuss the interpretation of the term ‘nature’ in Cynicism and contrast it with my view. The definition of this term is important, as my disagreement with Cynic discourses stem from the ambiguous or the arbitrary definition of nature. Cynics argue that humans should choose a path of life where they conform with the nature, without providing extensive details about nature (Piering, n.d.). I believe that if one wants to state a way of human life, they should define ‘human nature’. In the following, I attempt to give a definition:
Human nature is the collection of practices that a given individual may conduct. This includes any behavior conducted to comply with the rules of the social structure of one belongs to. I particularly give this example which is non-compliant with the Cynic approach of living in consonance with nature.
Akin to my view, Aristotle defines humans as social animals. He states that if there exists an individual who is capable of being self-sufficient and rejecting the common life, should either be a god or a beast (Aristotle, 1905). Here, the common life is viewed as the life of the majority by definition, and it is known that the life of the majority included compliance to the social norms and laws, making the life of a Cynic uncommon. From this, in an Aristotelian perspective, it is interpreted that a Cynic is either a god or a beast. There is no allegation in Cynicism that a Cynic is a god, hence, it follows that a Cynic should be a beast. A beast like life could be imagined as a life that is an isolated life from the community, which in the olden days would be called polis (city). Moreover, a beast would lack any kind of social abilities, that would hinder them to be able to be involved in any type of interactions with others.
One might argue that a beast like life is not against the claims of the Cynics, moreover that is exactly the kind of life they are trying to pursue, especially when the ‘living in accordance with nature’ claim of the Cynics is considered. In opposition of this statement, I argue that a beast-like life is not what the Cynics try to pursue. As I previously explained, Cynics attribute a great importance to virtue, they try to replace the principles brought by culture with reason, nature, and virtue. Moreover, as I will explain further in the following parts, Cynics interact with other people in the community, which includes asking them questions, which are mostly philosophical.
The inclusion of the values like reason and virtue situates the life of Cynics closer to the common-life more than a beast-like life. The aspects that still position the Cynic life apart from the common life are the ability of Cynics to examine their lives and the approaches they see conducted by the other individuals in their surroundings, and the lack of shame felt for the actions conducted considering other people. The latter aspect is restated as the freedom Cynics have, considering their ability to escape the rules and regulations.
As I explained, Cynics reject the society by examining the cultural norms that most people comply to and choose a life in accordance with nature. Then they train themselves as trials to adapt themselves better to this life. I argue that this practice introduces yet another type of social norm, and the examination and the training of Cynics are highly dependent on the society. In other words, the practices of Cynics offer a way of life for other individuals intentionally or not, creating an opportunity to form a group that collectively adopts the Cynic approach. One may argue that then if rejecting norms forms a new norm, it would not be possible to reject any norm. I think the problem particular to Cynicism is that while they reject the social norms, they are not only creating a new norm, but they are creating a new social norm.
One further problem about Cynics is that, Cynics appear to conduct askesis by interacting with other individuals and questioning their views. It is challenging to say that this approach completely coincides with an attempt to reject the social norms or merely practicing, but also serving the public by making the individuals examine. This approach better suits an aim of enhancing the society rather than rejecting it. Enhancing the society or servicing the society can be viewed as a virtuous act, which the Cynics believe is a value incorporated in the human nature. I view virtue as a comparison-based value, that one measures the degree of how virtuous an individual, or the act that an individual conducts, by contrasting the individual or the act with another individual or act. Therefore, it is unattainable to attribute virtue to a person individually. Hence, if the virtue comes from human nature, then we have to have a social context including more than one individual to be able to at least conduct the said contrast. On the other hand, it is confusing to imagine a virtuous individual or a virtuous act that does not include a second party.
Considering the points I stated, it would be accurate to consider Cynics as a part of the society. The participation of Cynics in daily life activities, yet conducting them differently, being present in public, and engaging with other individuals should be some of the aspects to reinforce my view. From this standpoint, I argue that escaping the society is not sufficient to say one lives only in accordance with the nature. Rather than an independence from the society or social values, Cynicism is correlated with society by enhancing its values rather than rejecting them. Furthermore, the idea is a new social norm people can adopt.
Piering, J. (n.d.). Cynics. (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://iep.utm.edu/cynics/
Aristotle. (1905). Aristotle's Politics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.