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Antisthenes (444 BC to 371 BC) was a Greek philosopher, an Athenian and founder of the Cynic sect. During his youth he was engaged in military exploits, and acquired fame by the valor which he displayed in the battle of Tanagra. Most of his paradoxical views stemmed from his first studies, under the direction of the sophist Gorgias, who instructed him in rhetoric. He later became one of Socrates’ most ardent followers. Like Socrates, he regarded virtue as necessary — indeed, alone sufficient — for happiness, and to be a branch of knowledge that could be taught, and that once acquired could not be lost. Its essence consists in freedom from wants by the avoidance of evil (by evil meaning pleasure and desire).

Regarding his religious views, Antisthenes maintained that, in the universe, everything is regulated by a divine intelligence, from design, so to benefit the good person who is the friend of God. This doctrine was connected with his ethical views, by indicating the physical conditions of a happy life. However, it led him to declare that there is but one natural God, but many popular deities; that God cannot be known or recognized in any form or figure, since he is like nothing on earth.

Antisthenes also taught by example. He wore no other garment than a coarse cloak, did not cut his beard, and carried a sack and staff like a wandering beggar. This was meant as an expression of opposition to the gradually increasing luxury of the age, intending to bring men back to their original simplicity in life and manners. His contention with the tendency of his age and drive toward simplicity brought negative reaction from his contemporaries. Antisthenes school met with so little encouragement that he drove away the few scholars he had. Diogenes of Sinope, who resembled him in character, is said to have been the only one that remained with him to his death.

“As iron is eaten away by rust, so the envious are consumed by their own passion.”

“The most useful piece of learning for the uses of life is to unlearn what is untrue.”

“We must not contradict, but instruct him that contradicts us; for a madman is not cured by another running mad also.”

“Observe your enemies, for they first find out your faults.”

“It is better to fall among crows than flatterers; for those devour only the dead — these the living.”

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