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Cynicism or Speaking Truth to Power? The Ideas of Diogenes

01 Jan 2020 at 08:37hrs | Views
In his History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell, scholarly and grandiosely narrated the famous story of Alexander the Great's encounter with Diogenes. Alexander was no doubt a powerful figure in human history and for his passion for philosophy and thinkers, decided to pay a special visit to Diogenes, a disciple of Socrates, who was twenty years older than Plato and asked if he desired any form of favour from him. To peoples' utmost surprise, Diogenes answered in a seemingly embarrassing, but invariably a truthful manner by saying 'Only to stand out of my sunlight'. As far as Diogenes was concerned, if there was any favour he could have asked Alexander, it would not be anything other than commanding the latter to move a little further from where he was standing for he was blocking the sunlight the former was naturally enjoying. Being a onetime disciple of Aristotle, Alexander did not take Diogenes's response as personal, or even demeaning, but moved away obediently as the master commanded. He was even quoted to have said 'If I were not Diogenes, I would still wish to be Diogenes'. This is the character of a true intellectual-the courage of not only speaking truth to power, but that of also preserving one's own integrity, especially from greed and sycophancy.

Born in Sinope to an influential family, Diogenes (412-323 B.C), decided to live a simple life, particularly that of seeking virtue and moral goods that fortune, 'has to bestow' and one 'will be emancipated from fear'. That incidence to most critics may best be defined as nihilism. On the contrary, I personally regard Diogenes's nihilism as mysticism, or by extension, ascetic. Besides, instead of cynicism and madness, I regard Diogenes's philosophy as not only apt, but also simple and humble. This could easily be seen in his teachings and way of life. He equally believed in using the simplest ways to impart knowledge, especially unto the uneducated majority of his time.
While seeking for knowledge, Diogenes could be patient to whatever humiliating conditions his master could subject him to. This basic and necessary building block of every sound scholarship is today lacking in most students of learning. This was what my late teacher, Malam Zubairu Ladan, once told me as a means to unlocking the doors of learning of which wisdom I have seen.  

As Diogenes is today known for his simple and mystical way of life, so shall each and every one of us, depending on how we swing our pendulum. As he believed in 'return to nature' and used all that he had to condemn slavery and sycophancy, so also is every true intellectual of our time.  Probably, that is why Diogenes's statues of immortalization stand high in the museums of the Vatican, the Louvre and the Capitol.

Source - 1893 Bayethe Board of Directors
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