Antisthenes (c. 445 – c. 365 BC)

ANTISTHENES is a disciple of Sokrates (Socrates). Nonetheless, he begins his philosophical life as a student of rhetoric with the Sophist teacher Gorgias. Sokrates does not like rhetoric. And he likes even less the Sophists who teach this art of speaking. Therefore, Antisthenes’ switch From Gorgias to Sokrates is a very interesting one. It is an out-and-out change of philosophical attitude. Indeed, the evolution of Antisthenes goes far beyond the move from Gorgias to Sokrates. In fact, at the end, Antisthenes becomes the first exponent of Cynicism preaching ascetism and other stern behaviours.

Antisthenes is a disciple of Sokrates who adopts and develops his master’s teachings, in particular on ethics. Following Sokrates, Antisthenes moves from the rule of ‘form’ to the rule of ‘content’, from ‘appearance’ to ‘substance’. Indeed, he advocates a lifestyle that the individuals should live in the name of virtue. Moreover, he warns everybody not to surrender to the insidious seductions of pleasure.

According to Antisthenes, the best form of existence is the one we constantly mould by virtue in action. He who abides by this precept must know that an action in the name of virtue is never lost. Furtermore, the virtuous action exempts the wise person from error. Hence, Antisthenes nurtures the idea that whatever the wise person does is always in line with perfect virtue. At the same time, he affirms that pleasure is never needed and it is a very specific form of evil.

Antisthenes considers pain and even ill-repute (in Greek <adoxia>) as blessings. Yet, he does not seem to consider all pleasures in a negative way. In fact, he praises the ones which spring “from out of one’s soul”. He also likes the enjoyments of friendship. As already mentioned before, some important scholars regard Antisthenes as the founder of Cynic philosophy.