Infobox Philosopher
region = Western Philosophy
era = Ancient philosophy
color = #B0C4DE

image_size = 200px
image_caption = Portrait bust of Antisthenes
name = Antisthenes
birth = c. 445 BCE, Athens
death = c. 365 BCE, Athens
school_tradition = Inspired the Cynic school
main_interests = Asceticism, Ethics, Language, Literature, Logic
notable_ideas = Laid the foundations of Cynic philosophy
influences = Socrates, Gorgias
influenced = Diogenes of Sinope, Crates of Thebes, and many other Cynics

Antisthenes ( _el. Ἀντισθένης), lived ca. 445-365 BCE, was a Greek philosopher and a pupil of Socrates. Antisthenes first learned rhetoric under Gorgias before becoming an ardent disciple of Socrates. He adopted and developed the ethical side of Socrates' teachings, advocating an ascetic life lived in accordance with virtue. Later writers regarded him as the founder of Cynic philosophy.


Antisthenes was born c. 445 BCE and was the son of Antisthenes, an Athenian. His mother was a Thracian. [Suda, "Antisthenes".; Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 1] In his youth he fought at Tanagra (426 BCE), and was a disciple first of Gorgias, and then of Socrates, whom he never quit, and at whose death he was present. [Plato, "Phaedo", 59 b.] He never forgave his master's persecutors, and is even said to have been instrumental in procuring their punishment. [Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 9] He survived the Battle of Leuctra (371 BCE), as he is reported to have compared the victory of the Thebans to a set of schoolboys beating their master. [Plutarch, "Lycurgus", 30.] Although one source tells us that he died at the age of 70, [Eudocia, "Violarium", 96] he was apparently still alive in 366 BCE, [Diodorus Siculus, xv. 76.4] and he must have been nearer to 80 years old when he died at Athens, c. 365 BCE. He is said to have lectured at the Cynosarges, [Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 13] a gymnasium for the use of Athenians born of foreign mothers, near the temple of Hercules. Diogenes Laërtius says that his works filled ten volumes, but of these, only fragments remain. His favourite style seems to have been dialogues, some of them being vehement attacks on his contemporaries, as on Alcibiades in the second of his two works entitled "Cyrus", on Gorgias in his "Archelaus" and on Plato in his "Satho". [Athenaeus, v. 220c-e] His style was pure and elegant, and Theopompus even said that Plato stole from him many of his thoughts. [Athenaeus, xi. 508c-d] Cicero, however, calls him "a man more intelligent than learned" ( _la. homo acutus magis quam eruditus). [Cicero, "Epistulae ad Atticum", xii. 38.] He possessed considerable powers of wit and sarcasm, and was fond of playing upon words; saying, for instance, that he would rather fall among crows ("korakes") than flatterers ("kolakes"), for the one devour the dead, but the other the living. [Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 4] Two declamations have survived, named "Ajax" and "Ulysses", which are purely rhetorical.



Antisthenes was a pupil of Socrates, from whom he imbibed the fundamental ethical precept that virtue, not pleasure, is the end of existence. Everything that the wise person does, Antisthenes said, conforms to perfect virtue,Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 11] and pleasure is not only unnecessary, but a positive evil. He is reported to have held pain [Julian, "Oration", 6.181b] and even ill-repute ( _el. ἀδοξία) [Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 3, 7] to be blessings, and that madness is preferable to pleasure. [Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 3] It is, however, probable that he did not consider all pleasure worthless, but only that which results from the gratification of sensual or artificial desires, for we find him praising the pleasures which spring "from out of one's soul", [Xenophon, "Symposium", iv. 41.] and the enjoyments of a wisely chosen friendship. [Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 12] The supreme good he placed in a life lived according to virtue, - virtue consisting in action, which when obtained is never lost, and exempts the wise person from error. [Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 11-12, 104-105] It is closely connected with reason, but to enable it to develop itself in action, and to be sufficient for happiness, it requires the aid of "Socratic strength" ( _el. Σωκρατικὴ ἱσχύς).


His work on Natural Philosophy (the "Physicus") contained a theory of the nature of the gods, in which he argued that there were many gods believed in by the people, but only one natural God. [Cicero, "De Natura Deorum", i. 13.] He also said that God resembles nothing on earth, and therefore could not be understood from any representation. [Clement of Alexandria, "Stromata", v.]


In logic, Antisthenes was troubled by the problem of the One and the Many. As a proper nominalist, he held that definition and predication are either false or tautological, since we can only say that every individual is what it is, and can give no more than a description of its qualities, e. g. that silver is like tin in colour.Aristotle, "Metaphysics", 1043b4] Thus he disbelieved the Platonic system of Ideas which do not exist save for the consciousness which thinks them. "A horse", said Antisthenes, "I can see, but horsehood I cannot see." [Simplicius, "in Arist. Cat." 208, 28] Definition is merely a circuitous method of stating an identity: "a tree is a vegetable growth" is logically no more than "a tree is a tree."

Antisthenes and the Cynics

In later times, Antisthenes became to be seen as the founder of the Cynics, but it is by no means certain that he would have recognized the term. Aristotle, writing a generation later refers several times to Antisthenes, [Aristotle, "Metaphysics", 1024b26; "Rhetoric", 1407a9; "Topics", 104b21; "Politics", 1284a15] and his followers "the Antistheneans," but never associates him with Cynics, nor with Aristotle's contemporary Diogenes of Sinope. There are many later tales about Diogenes dogging Antisthenes footsteps and becoming his faithful hound, [Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 6, 18, 21; Dio Chrysostom, "Orations", viii. 1-4; Aelian, x. 16; Stobaeus, "Florilegium", 13.19] but it is not certain whether the two men ever actually met. Even the story about Antisthenes lecturing in the Cynosarges gymnasium may be a later desire to link him with a place associated with Cynic philosophy, although as the son of a foreign-born mother, Antisthenes would probably have frequented the place. It is true, however, that Antisthenes adopted a rigorous ascetic lifestyle, [Xenophon, "Symposium", iv. 34-44.] and he certainly developed many of the principles of Cynic philosophy which became an inspiration for Diogenes and many later Cynics. It was said that he had laid the foundations of the city which they afterwards built. [Diogenes Laërtius, vi. 15]


Further reading

*Luis E. Navia, (2001), "Antisthenes of Athens: Setting the World Aright". Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-31672-4

External links

*Diogenes Laërtius, [ "Life of Antisthenes"]
*Xenophon, [ "Symposium", Book IV]

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  • Antisthenes — (* um 445 v. Chr. in Athen; † um 365 v. Chr.) war ein griechischer Philosoph der Antike und gilt als Begründer des Kynismus und Ahnherr der stoischen Philosophie. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Biografie 2 Philosophie 3 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • ANTISTHENES — Patre Atheniensi, matre vero Phrygiâ natus, Philosophus, posteaquam docuisset Rheroricam, audisletque Socratem, dixisse fertur discipluis, Abite et magistrum quaerite, ego enim iam reperi, statimque venditis, quae habebat, et publice distributis …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Antisthĕnes — Antisthĕnes, geb. um 420 v. Chr. zu Athen, früher Sophist, später Schüler des Sokrates, stiftete nach dem Tode des Sokrates in Athen eine Philosophenschule, welche nach dem Kynosarges, auf welchem er lehrte, die Kynische genannt ward. Seine Lehre …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Antisthĕnes — Antisthĕnes, von Athen, Stifter der kynischen Schule (s. Kyniker), erst Schüler des Gorgias, nachmals Schüler und Freund des Sokrates, geb. 444 v. Chr., gest. 399, etwa 30 Tage nach Sokrates. Er war Sohn eines athenischen Vaters und einer… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Antisthenes — Antisthĕnes, aus Athen, griech. Philosoph, geb. um 440 v. Chr., Schüler des Sokrates, Stifter der Zynischen Schule, Lehrer des Diogenes. – Vgl. Dümmler (1882, 1889) …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Antisthenes — Antisthenes, Athener, Schüler des Sokrates, lehrte, daß der Mensch der glücklichste sei, der am wenigsten bedürfe, und daß nur die Tugend das Ziel des menschlichen Strebens sein könne. So wurde er Vorläufer der stoischen Philosophie und Gründer… …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • Antisthenes — [an tis′thə nēz΄] 444? 365? B.C.; Gr. philosopher; founder of Cynicism …   English World dictionary

  • Antisthenes — /an tis theuh neez /, n. 444? 365? B.C., Greek philosopher: founder of the Cynic school. * * * ▪ Greek philosopher born c. 445 BC died c. 365       Greek philosopher, of Athens, who was a disciple of Socrates and is considered the founder of the… …   Universalium

  • Antisthenes — Antịsthenes,   griechischer Philosoph aus Athen, * um 445 v. Chr., ✝ um 360 v. Chr.; Schüler des Sokrates und Gründer der kynischen Philosophenschule. Bedeutsam war seine von Platon bekämpfte Lehre, dass keine andere Aussage möglich sei als die… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Antisthenes — biographical name circa 445 circa 365 B.C. Athenian philosopher …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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