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Ethics and Free Will > Diogenes of Sinope aka "the Cynic" (ca. 404-ca.323 BCE)

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message 1: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3976 comments Mod
Diogenes of Sinope (ca. 404-ca. 323 BCE) did not write down anything that has survived. However, others reported his sayings (how accurately we don’t know for certain). One book collecting these quotations, or alleged quotations, is Diogenes the Cynic: Sayings and Anecdotes with Other Popular Moralists, translated with an Introduction and Notes by Robin Hard (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 2012). See also this essay linked by Bob Hanna in another topic in this group.


message 2: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1431 comments Famous to the countrymen of his day not only for his willful poverty, his shoeless-ness, and the irregularity of his sleeping quarters, but also for his street-theatrics. In broad daylight, he purportedly wandered Athens with his hound-dog, abruptly halting random citizens and hoisting a lantern or candle up to their faces. When quizzed by the affronted gentlemen, he proclaimed his 'endless quest to meet just one truly honest man'.

Diogenes knew how to self-market! Even today, could we suggest a better (or cheaper?) method he might have used instead, to spread his name?

showmanship counts


message 3: by Robert (new)

Robert Wess | 448 comments A scholar of the historical Jesus places Jesus in the Cynic tradition. See John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (1992).

Crossan's book appears to be a great work of scholarship that would take close study for a considerable time to absorb fully. I haven't tried to study it closely but I have looked around in it for glimpses of the "historical Jesus." Given what history has made of Jesus, it would be great to "see" the real guy behind it all, although it appears sources are too limited to
ever provide enough information to see him clearly.

That being said, one passage in Crossan provided what I consider the best glimpse I've ever had of the "historical Jesus": "What a Cynic was is clear from this book's fourth chapter. It
involved practice and not just theory, life-style and not just
mind-set in opposition to the cultural heart of Mediterranean
civilization, a way of looking and dressing, of eating, living, and
relating that announced its contempt for honor and shame, for
patronage and clientage. They were hippies in a world of Augustan yuppies. Jesus and his followers, but not John the Baptist and his, fit very well against THAT background" (421).

Crossan's fourth chapter relies heavily on "Of the Cynic Philosophy," book 3, chapter 22 in Epictetus's DISCOURSES. Epictetus was a first century Stoic but Stoics were evidently influenced by Cynics. Cynics were not Woodstock hippies, but they were hippie-like in exhibiting in every way imaginable contempt for conventional worldly ways and aspirations. Cynics typically appeared in urban centers, whereas Jesus was a rural variant: "The historical Jesus was, then, a PEASANT JEWISH CYNIC" (421).


message 4: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1431 comments Toothsome tidbit, this. I'm a big fan of Epictetus. For archaeological evidence supporting how a man possibly named 'Jesus' became 'the Christ' (and all the ensuing repercussions in academic circles) I leap to suggest the excellent PBS Frontline series, presumably viewable online:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontli...

Religion is not treated in this forum but history often is; and it's in that vein that I suggest this link. I think it's valuable to see just how much 'pagan' trends-in-thought carried over into that 'new' era.


message 5: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Jan 25, 2020 05:58AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3976 comments Mod
The essay linked in post 1, above, reminds me of Part 6 (“We Scholars”) of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil as well as the following statement of Leo Strauss: “[T]here exists a very dangerous tendency to identify the good man with the good sport, the cooperative fellow, the ‘regular guy,’ i.e., an overemphasis on a certain part of social virtue and a corresponding neglect of those virtues which mature, if they do not flourish, in privacy, not to say in solitude . . . .” (Leo Strauss, “What is Political Philosophy?,” in What is Political Philosophy and Other Studies [Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1959], 38). The context is somewhat different, but I think Strauss would approve of its application in the academic context, as evidenced by his distinction between philosophers and scholars (denying that philosophy professors are automatically philosophers) and remarking (exoterically I believe) that he was a scholar and not a philosopher. Moreover, Strauss stated that it is unlikely that we would find a philosopher in any classroom (which, again, I think he said ironically, considering the fact that he spent decades of his life in the classroom). I don’t immediately have at hand the quotations and citations to establish the foregoing, but I have repeatedly read these statements of Strauss over the decades and could find them if I spent enough time on such a search.


message 6: by Feliks (last edited Jan 24, 2020 03:43PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1431 comments There's a relationship in all this as well, to de Tocqueville's appreciation of American democracy and how we were once a nation composed of myriad social groups. Novelist Sinclair Lewis covers this topic too. Me, I was ferociously upbraided by a professor once, for detailing in a paper how Americans were becoming more atomistic and isolated. It's always irked me because his argument was anecdotal. He swore that in his own affluent neighborhood (practically adjacent to the school), adults still formed various cooperatives. I wasn't sharp enough to refute him at the time.


message 7: by Allen (new)

Allen | 261 comments There's actually a related quote I recently thought of while in a completely different context. I don't have the exact wording, but I found it originally in Timothy Snyder and Tony Judt's Thinking the Twentieth Century. One of the authors of that work mentions that, if honesty is to tell the truth, then authenticity is to accept that we cannot always do so.

It reminds me of another quote I once heard said of politicians and politics. Hypocrisy is to tell a lie. But to pretend that no hypocrisy is possible is the ultimate hypocrisy. There are many ways to apply this insight to current events, but I will leave that to others.


message 8: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Jan 25, 2020 07:00AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3976 comments Mod
Allen wrote: "One of the authors of that work mentions that, if honesty is to tell the truth, then authenticity is to accept that we cannot always do so."

Although I am not (yet) an expert on Kant, it is my understanding that one of his ethical teachings is that one must never tell a lie under any circumstances. The standard counterexample raised by non-Kantians is when the Gestapo comes knocking on one’s door to inquire about Jews living in one’s house. Although a Jewish family is hiding therein, does one answer the Gestapo’s question in the affirmative or in the negative? An affirmative response would mean the arrest and probable execution of both the Jewish family and one’s own family. As I understand it, Kant says one must reply in the affirmative. (Bob Hanna or others can correct me if I am wrong about this point; I am basing it on what I have read in secondary sources, not on what I have read to date in Kant’s writings.)

In contrast, Leo Strauss and the Straussians have argued that philosophers (especially but not exclusively pre-nineteenth-century philosophers) often wrote exoterically for nonphilosophers and esoterically for philosophers. This is not only for the protection of philosophers against persecution but also for the protection of the nonphilosophers, who do not have sufficient intellectual background to be able to handle the truth. This includes, but is not limited to, questions about revealed religion: many nation-states, even today, have heresy and blasphemy laws, and, in previous centuries, many were burned at the stake in Western Europe and hanged in America (for example, seventeenth-century Massachusetts Bay) for expressing nonbelief in the established religion. For further discussion, see my review of Arthur M. Melzer's Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing as well as posts 6, 9-11, 15-16, 24, 37, 55-56, and 65 in the Leo Strauss and the Straussians topic.


message 9: by Feliks (last edited Jan 25, 2020 07:05AM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1431 comments My layman's opinion on the above challenge to the categorical imperative is that the grounds of the problem posed, have 'shifted underneath the homeowner's feet' and he is now considering his own enrichment incorrectly as a dividend.

Living a life in which 'one always tells the truth'; being a person who wants to 'tell the truth all the time' is a very fine thing; and emulates some very fine moral principles. But at some point it might become a subjective product, one of those, 'gee, what is the best way I should live MY life' type of moral precepts which in Kant are never ranked the highest.

Until someone else in this thread chimes in to correct my grasp here (which I'd surely appreciate), I'm not convinced that Kant promulgated any such 'devil's arithmetic' which says it might be good to let another human be slain for the sake of someone's immediate self-interest, no matter how idealistic.

There is much that is bizarre in Kant but I think it's more likely that such challenges (ex., this one about the Gestapo) are formed from the long history of misunderstandings due to Kant's famously dense elocution.


message 10: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Jan 26, 2020 07:20AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3976 comments Mod
Re posts 8 and 9, above:

I have just finished reading Kant’s short essay “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy,” in Immanuel Kant, Practical Philosophy, translated and edited by Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 611-15. (Note: there are probably English translations of the essay on the internet, but I was unable to find one in a quick search.)

The hypothetical formulated in this essay is quite similar to the one I adduced in #8 above: whether the principle of truth-telling extends to a situation in which a murderer asks a person whether someone he is pursuing is at that person’s house. Kant answers emphatically in the affirmative. His rationale, as I understand it, is that the obligation to tell the truth is absolute and may not be qualified under any inconvenient circumstances. Although Kant seems at times to be referring to the obligations of criminal law (did Prussian law really consider lying to be a punishable offense under such circumstances, or was this Kant’s philosophical reformulation of criminal law?), he also expresses himself more broadly. The following excerpt from the essay (Gregor translation, italics in the original, Kant’s footnote omitted) states, I think, its essential point:
Truthfulness in statements that one cannot avoid is a human being’s duty to everyone, however great the disadvantage to him or to another that may result from it; and although I indeed do no wrong to him who unjustly compels me to make the statement if I falsify it, I nevertheless do wrong in the most essential part of duty in general by such falsification, which can therefore be called a lie (though not in a jurist’s sense); that is, I bring it about, as far as I can, that statements (declaration) in general are not believed, and so too that all rights which are based on contracts come to nothing and lose their force; and this is a wrong inflicted upon humanity generally.
This is a perfect example of why I prefer Aristotelian ethics to Kantian ethics. The so-called virtue ethicists (see the Virtue Ethics topic) call Kant’s ethics “deontological”; they also prefer a more Aristotelian approach, though I don’t like everything they say—or how they say it—in what I have read of their work. The original (Aristotle) is still the greatest, though he too made errors that are quite obvious to us today.

(edited 1/26/2020)


message 11: by Feliks (last edited Jan 25, 2020 12:50PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1431 comments Hmmm. For me, those two hypothetical examples seem to diverge from each other quite a bit.

In one, the wolf-at-the-door (a killer, a murderer, let's say an escaped death-row inmate on the loose?) is himself on the wrong side of law, force, and authority. He has no right to enter the home.

In the other --despicable though the Gestapo's policies were --they nonetheless represented a legally constituted government carrying out the procedure of 'arresting criminals'. (Of course we assume that the homeowner is certain that these particular Jews have not committed any actual crime, too).

It's a strange argument for me to advance since I generally lean towards Rousseau. But just for the sake of argument:

Doesn't the householder-trying-to-do-good, enjoy more leeway in one, versus the other of the two cases? I'm not sure he makes out any better in either extremity though, if his quest is for 'universal-application-of-right'.

(1) If he lies to protect Jews he himself becomes a criminal ('aiding & abetting criminals').

(2) If he truths, he is now complicit in an unfortunate historical tragedy ...but he himself is not an accomplice to murder. He is legally ...'in the clear'. He has lost his bid for Kantian universality, though.

(3) If he 'truths' to a murderer at his door (a murderer with the open intention of slaying an inhabitant), he is himself then somewhat complicit in the resulting murder, should one transpire. He could face trial. [There is more likelihood of bloodshed in the first case; whereas 'arrest' by Gestapo agents did not necessarily mean on-the-spot slaughter.]

(4) If he lies to the murderer he is at least, not legally guilty of harboring criminals. He is a good samaritan, protecting lives. He may himself be overpowered and murdered however.

It's practically a 'no-win situation' either way and one that Kant (I seem to recall) strove to transcend.

I hasten to point out that I myself do not turn to Kant first among philosophers for his ethical system; I'm more keen for his treatment of our perceptions and our cognition.


message 12: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Jan 26, 2020 07:34AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3976 comments Mod
Feliks, I’m not sure what you are trying to say in your preceding post. But I will address here the view (certainly followed by the Nazi regime) of Thrasymachus in Book I of Plato's Republic: see my post 34 here. In the vernacular, Thrasymachus asserted that might makes right: One must morally follow any law (or other command) dictated by the powers-that-be. There is no such thing as natural right (or, alternatively stated, natural right equals positive right under an anachronistically applied Social Darwinist doctrine of “survival of the fittest”). There is only positive right—the right of the stronger, which, in the context of a political regime, means the decrees or laws of Hitler or Stalin, as well as the laws of a constitutional republic. In this view, civil disobedience is never justified. I reject this approach.

I do not entirely understand Kant’s position in the essay I cited in post 10 above. He seems to suggest that it would be against the (criminal) law for a person to lie to a murderer in order to protect the life of an innocent person. I don’t understand how Prussia could have had such a law—or that Kant could have formulated any such “ideal” criminal law. Lying is not a crime in the United States unless one lies under oath in legal proceedings—or under penalty of perjury in, for example, one’s tax returns. There may be a scenario, somewhat analogous to my hypothetical in post 8, in which it is a criminal offense to lie to a governmental officer investigating an alleged crime, for example the scenarios in which several of Trump’s henchmen have been convicted of obstruction of justice or related crimes. But lying to a police officer or other governmental agent is, under normal circumstances, not morally permissible. Lying to a police officer would, however, be morally permissible—and arguably morally required—in the scenario I articulated in post 8.

I would like to see Socrates deconstruct Kant’s position on this issue pursuant to the former’s famous “Socratic method.” But, to the extent, if any, that Kant’s position is not strictly analogous to that of Thrasymachus, I have tried to do the same in my comments here.


message 13: by Robert (new)

Robert Hanna | 271 comments This is an interesting discussion!

Of course, the "murderer at the door" problem, & the related worry about Kant's "rigorism," i.e., extremism about the universality of moral principles, esp. about not lying, is a classic cluster of problems for Kant's & Kantian ethics.

For the record, I completely agree that Kant is simply mistaken here!, & especially in the late essay "On a Supposed Right to Lie..."

But I do also think that even though Kant badly screwed up here, it's also a cluster of problems that can in fact be adequately addressed within a suitably revised & updated broadly Kantian ethics.

So, e.g., I've addressed those problems in loving detail in ch. 2 of this book--
https://www.academia.edu/36359647/The...

But since I also taught this material to undergraduates for decades, answering the very same cluster of worries year after year, there's also a shorter & sweeter version in section V.3.2 here--
https://www.academia.edu/41451992/Mor...

In any case, the basic idea behind the solution to the worries is that some basic Kantian moral principles, e.g., never to treat people as mere means or mere things but always as ends-in-themselves, i.e., persons with dignity, do indeed hold in a strictly universal way, whereas other Kantian principles, e.g., never lie, hold only ceteris paribus, i.e., other things being equal, i.e., only when certain conditions are met, & those conditions aren't satisfied in the murderer-at-the-door case.

So there's an ordered hierarchy of Kantian moral principles, & only the small cluster of principles at the top of the hierarchy, i.e., the four or five necessarily interconnected versions of The Categorical Imperative, are genuinely strictly universal.

The others lower in the hierarchy are ceteris paribus, i.e., subject to certain background conditions, & don't hold strictly universally.

Indeed, on my contemporary version of Kantian ethics, in the particular context of the murderer at the door, esp. its modern Nazi-at-the-door version, on Kantian grounds we're actually morally obligated to lie, in order to treat innocent people with sufficient respect for their dignity & not accede to the evil intentions of murderers/Nazis....

As a final comment in this connection, I think it's really important not to be obsessed with defending famous philosophers' views, in the face of cogent objections, even, or perhaps especially, the views of those philosophers we admire most.

So even, or perhaps especially, if we think that they're truly great philosophers, we should fully realize that they can also be *greatly wrong*; & thus we should be prepared to reject the mistaken parts of their views, & correct them if we can, but also simply go beyond them & follow the path of our own critical reasoning, if we must....


message 14: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3976 comments Mod
Robert wrote: "This is an interesting discussion!

Of course, the "murderer at the door" problem, & the related worry about Kant's "rigorism," i.e., extremism about the universality of moral principles, esp. abou..."


Thanks very much, Bob, for your expert analysis and wise advice.


message 15: by Robert (new)

Robert Wess | 448 comments I second Alan's "Thanks very much, Bob, for your expert analysis and wise advice."

Maybe I missed something, but it seems to me that one point in Robert's post #13 needs clarification. I'll post my question in the Kant discussion thread.


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