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Antisthenes (c.445–c.365 BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A013-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 19, 2024, from

Article Summary

Antisthenes was one of the most devoted followers of Socrates. As a young man he was heavily influenced by the display speeches of Gorgias the rhetorician and the interpretation of Homer practised by the Sophists. He himself wrote much in the same vein, although almost all has been lost.

Antisthenes’ influence can be recognized most in the writer Xenophon. Although it is likely that he succeeded in annoying Plato and Isocrates, his influence on Cynicism has been greatly exaggerated.

Little survives of his moral philosophy, but what there is is Socratic in conception, and indeed Socrates’ own courage and tenacity are its avowed inspiration. Antisthenes focuses on virtue, conceived as inner strength, a fortress founded on wisdom and its unassailable reasonings. Virtue is acquired and maintained by ‘exertions’, a term deliberately recalling the labours of Heracles: these consist of the struggle to overcome the difficulties of, for example, poverty or unpopularity, by understanding how they can be viewed as good things – provided the riches of the soul are intact. Pleasure and sex are accordingly seen as threats to virtue’s integrity. Antisthenes enjoins us to redraw our moral categories: the good and just are our true friends and kin.

In theory of language Antisthenes defended the paradox that contradiction is impossible, deriving his argument from the idea that there can be no successful reference to anything except by its own ‘account’, revealing what it is.

Citing this article:
Schofield, Malcolm. Antisthenes (c.445–c.365 BC), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A013-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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