Cynicism may be 'shortest path to good life'
Ancient Cynics actually held values they viewed as a shortcut to happiness, a new research has revealed.
The research by the University of Cincinnati's Susan Prince showed that despite the historical perception of the ancient Cynics as harsh, street-corner prophets relentlessly condemning all passersby and decrying society's lack of virtue, these Greek philosophers, indirectly descended from Socratic teaching, weren't all doom and gloom. They actually might have espoused a shortcut to happiness.
"We don't have good scholarship on the Cynics. They're seen as misanthropes and as sloppy and dirty people who want to cut down the elite. But there's a positive strand that needs to be recovered, and I'm really going to punch that hard with my research," said Prince, UC assistant professor of classics.
Much of Prince's work focuses on the individual believed to be the primary influence on the Cynic movement, Antisthenes.
Antisthenes was a pupil of Socrates and occasional rival of Plato. In fact, while history occasionally paints Plato as a philosopher of unequaled wisdom, Prince said that through study of his texts, it's more plausible that he developed his ideas through tight intellectual debates with his contemporaries, and Antisthenes was among them.
Plato and Antisthenes shared many beliefs in common with all philosophers and #65533; rejection of wealth and luxury, and embracing the pursuit of wisdom and virtue. But Antisthenes' methods set him apart from Plato.
Whereas Plato founded his Academy for philosophical teaching and lengthy study, Antisthenes advocated a short but rigorous path toward virtue and happiness.
Antisthenes' way was short in that he endorsed an abbreviated curriculum when compared to those of other schools of philosophy, which contended that the quick route was a road to nowhere. Antisthenes' teachings skipped over the technical aspects of logic in order to concentrate on ethical literature, such as reading Homer.
And Antisthenes' way was rigorous in that it required a drastic attitude change. To follow the path of the Cynic was to abandon many societal conventions and to live in accord with nature and #65533; no more fancy clothes, no more exquisite feasts and even no more roof over your head.
Through this shortcut, Prince said Cynics were able to gain leisure time which could be put toward living the good life or what Antisthenes called "seeing the things worth seeing and hearing the things worth hearing."
And that's how an ancient Cynic could exist in ethical bliss until the end of his days.
"You get to your happiness quickly and then you practice your happiness for the rest of your life," Prince asserted.
In a modern context, there's some irony in the notion of a cynic devoted to the pursuit of happiness, and Prince hopes her research can clear the air on Antisthenes, et al.
UC's Susan Prince will present her research on "Antisthenes and the Short Route to Happiness" during the 13th annual Unisa Classics Colloquium hosted by the University of South Africa's Department of Classics and World Languages from Oct. 25-27 in Pretoria.