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What we can learn from Diogenes

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What we can learn from Diogenes

Diogenes of Sinope, often referred to as Diogenes the Cynic, was a fascinating and provocative figure in ancient Greek philosophy. He lived in the 4th century BC. BC and was known for his extreme asceticism and his quick-witted way of challenging social norms and conventions.

Encounter with Plato

A famous example of Diogenes’ teachings is his encounter with the philosopher Plato. When Plato defined man as a “featherless biped”, Diogenes brought a plucked rooster into the academy and exclaimed: “Here is Plato’s man!” This action was intended to show that Plato’s definition was too vague and imprecise and that the true nature of man cannot be understood through abstract definitions, but through concrete examples.

The story of the lantern in broad daylight

Another (lesser known) story: Diogenes once walked through the streets of Athens in broad daylight with a lantern. When people asked him what he was doing, he replied that he was looking for an “honest man.” This act was a sharp criticism of the hypocrisy and moral depravity of the society of his time.

However, Diogenes’ search for an honest man was not only an external act, but also a metaphorical one. He wasn’t just looking for someone who would literally tell the truth, but for someone who would be sincere and authentic in a world full of hypocrisy and mendacity.

Encounter with Alexander the Great

One of the most famous encounters in the history of philosophy is that between Diogenes and Alexander the Great:

According to tradition, Alexander, having heard of Diogenes’ reputation as a philosopher, sought him out in Corinth. He found Diogenes relaxing in the sun and offered to fulfill his every wish. Diogenes, who was enjoying the sun, is said to have replied: “Get out of the sun for me a little!” This answer symbolizes Diogenes’ contempt for material wealth and power, as well as his belief that true happiness lies in simplicity and independence from external circumstances can be found.

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Another tradition tells that Alexander, impressed by Diogenes’ wisdom and love of freedom, said: “If I were not Alexander, I would want to be Diogenes.” To which Diogenes is said to have replied: “If I were not Diogenes, I would also be Diogenes want.” This anecdote underlines Diogenes’ self-sufficiency and his rejection of any pursuit of power or fame.


Diogenes’ encounters with Alexander the Great illustrate his philosophical convictions and his unwavering belief in the Cynic way of life, which emphasizes freedom, self-sufficiency, and the insignificance of material possessions.

Diogenes taught by example that the best way to live is to defy cultural conventions and live a life in harmony with nature, free from the shackles of material desires.

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