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What Is Cynicism?

Cynicism is a philosophy that flourished in Greece in the 4th century B.C. It taught that the goal of man is virtue, and that this can be achieved only through living a simple and natural life. The Cynics scorned all artificiality, social conventions, wealth, pleasure, and religion. They emphasized mental freedom and lived in ascetic simplicity in order to gain control over their emotions. Cynicism contrasted sharply with the intellectual sophistication of other Greek philosophies of the period.

The founder of Cynicism was Antisthenes, who had been a student of Socrates, and the most famous Cynic was Diogenes of Sinop. Diogenes lived as a pauper, begged his food, and slept in an old tub at the side of the Acropolis in Athens. He was called the Dog, and the name "Cynicism" may have been derived from the Greek word for dog. The name also may have come from the Cynosarges, the school in Athens where the early Cynics gathered.

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