ANTISTHENES OF ATHENS (’Αντισθενης)—the founder of the Cynic school, regarded as a teacher of the Stoics, an interpreter of the philosophy of Heraclitus, the author of a proof showing that it is impossible to refute any judgment, an opponent of Plato, the greatest of the minor Socratics. He lived approximately 445–365 BC.
Initially he was a pupil of the rhetorician Gorgias, hence in his dialogues, especially in Truth and in Encouragement to philosophy a rhetorical style is apparent. He later joined with Socrates and encouraged his students to do the same. As Diogenes Laertios reports, he wrote ten volumes of writings on rhetoric, the philosophy of nature, ethics, certain eminent persons, education, and the art of discussion. From Socrates he took the attitude of mastering feelings and desires. Antisthenes esteemed self-sufficiency, independence, and indifference to fate and to external goods, in which he saw true human happiness. Virtue is the only condition for happiness. Virtue is manifest in deeds and is the inseparable feature of the sage. It consists in complete independence from things and other people and in self-sufficiency and complete freedom. To defend and possess virtue we should not surrender to passions. True virtue is indestructible wisdom, although it is not a body of learned knowledge, and one may learn it without long lines of reasoning.
Antisthenes denied the need for the existence of the state, the need for positive law, and denied mythological religions. He supposedly taught about one single God who is worshipped by becoming perfect in virtue. He rejected all else, i.e., the pantheon, temples, sacrifices, and prayers. He was the first to define the term “logos” (“A word expresses a thing as it was or is”). He did not have great esteem for grammar, literature, or science in the Platonic sense, and he recognized the value of sense perception. Simple and individual things are not objects of definition, but of description, by showing their similarities to other things. Radical stoicism probably originated from Antisthenes. He recognized indifference (’απαθηια [apatheia]), continence, and self-mastery as principles of life.
DLaert VI 1; G. Giannantoni, Socraticorum Reliquiae I–IV, R 1983–1985; Reale I 402–404; Copleston HPh I 139–142, 438.