Thursday, 28 December 2006


People refuse to believe me when I tell them that there is great humour to be derived from the study of philosophy, but it is true. David Hume in his 'Dialogues concerning Natural Religion' said 'whether your scepticism be as sincere as you pretend, we shall learn by and by, when the company breaks up: we shall then see, whether you go out at the door or the window: and whether you really doubt if your body has gravity, or can be injured by its fall". In other words it is all well and good to have extreme or unorthodox philosophical beliefs, such as doubt in the existence of the laws of physics, no matter how logically argued, you will still approach your life with a little more pragmatism, something the philosophers call 'naive realism'. The life of Diogenes shows that Hume was not completely correct in that assertion.

Diogenes of Sinope, to give him his full name (well, one wouldn't want to confuse him with Diogenes Laertius or Diogenes the Stoic now would we?) was a member of the school of cynical philosophy and like Socrates it seems that he didn't write anything down himself, so what is known of him is gathered from the work of his followers. The etymology of the word 'cynic' is really rather appropriate when considering Diogenes. Its origins lie in the Ancient Greek word kunikos meaning 'dog-like'. Diogenes believed in the ultimate absurdity of social values and institution, culture and society were cause of greater evils then the ones they purported to cure so he yearned for man to be more in touch with its true, natural, animal self and these were beliefs he lived by.

Plato described Diogenes as 'A Socrates gone mad' and that makes for a good comparison. Socrates was short, bearded, bald and somewhat rotund. He wore the same cloak year in and year out and never wore shoes, even his most friendly acquaintances were short on tact when it came to describing his appearance. He also was known to wander the streets asking blunt questions of strangers whom he passed, often undermining their entire belief systems. Diogenes on the other hand was known to defecate in the streets. For a time he lived in a discarded tub by a temple; he masturbated in market places and urinated on a man with whom he had a disagreement.

The philosophers of Ancient Greece were the rock & roll stars of their time; on an encounter with Alexander the Great, Alexander was so thrilled to have met Diogenes that he was supposed to have said 'If I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes'. He obviously could have been somebody with power and influence, had he wanted it but that was not his philosophy. He lived in profound poverty in the manner he thought was best and one, whilst not being wholly enamoured (if not a little amused) by the way he lived, can but respect him. I'm not sure the world would be a better place if everyone acted out the principles they claim for themselves -- there are some sick and twisted people out there, but there is no greater challenge to a philosophy than to live it.


cubalibre said...

Dammit I was waiting for the nutter to break up the group, leave through the window, and truly test the powers of gravity. Preferably with some ridiculously unrealistic explosions and some sort of love interest. hmm Hollywood has ruined my story expectations.

Paolo said...

That is something that always baffles me. Why, no matter what genre a film falls into, does there have to be a 'love interest'? It is probably just a lazy way of achieving some modicum of character development but in most films the depiction of romantic entanglement is at best a superfluity.

I do remember reading about a philosophical sceptic who would dance along cliff-tops however his name escapes me. I be he had a love interest though and in exercising his beliefs he was fighting the man -- there has to be a film in it.