Diogenes vs. Socrates: a Life of Worth

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Ezra Hochman
Wednesday/Friday 12:25-2:05
Diogenes vs. Socrates: What is a life of worth?
One can either write the story of their own life, or let other people and circumstances write it for him. Too often do citizens of the world follow the assumptions of society, as personal independence can seem frightening or uncomfortable. Both Socrates and Diogenes were of the mind that the purpose of human life is to constantly better one’s self by way of personal and spiritual growth. We are unable to grow toward greater understanding of our true nature unless we take the time to examine and reflect upon it. Material wealth and social status are imaginary assets. True value is found in questioning the standard and pursuing virtue through education and self-discipline. Philosophers Diogenes and Socrates both have commentaries on what it means to live with values, and though their holistic philosophies on life are very similar, their outlooks on this specific topic are poles apart. In this paper, I will contrast the beliefs of Diogenes and Socrates in regards to the evaluation of a life of worth. The major underlying difference between Diogenes and Socrates is the measurement of conviction in their beliefs. Diogenes’s opinions stand erect and extreme, whereas Socrates hovers on the moderate side of the spectrum. This discrepancy in policy comes to be the major factor in the differences between the two philosophers, especially when regarding the idea of a life of worth. One thing that separates Diogenes and Socrates is their respective stances on public relations; that is to say, Diogenes has one, and Socrates does not. Diogenes believed that a life of worth started with outward action, as opposed to reclusive thought. Being asked what the most beautiful thing in the world was, he replied, “Freedom of speech.” Diogenes was known to be a voracious lecturer. As one of the chief founders of cynicism, Diogenes had a lot to say and had no problem offering public rebukes to the avarice and hypocrisy of his time period. But Diogenes went even further. His firm belief that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory was exemplified by his vagrant lifestyle. He begged for food, slept in a barrel, ate in the marketplace (a social aberration at the time), performed bodily functions in public, and most controversially, openly defied and disrespected figures of authority. One famous anecdote typifying Diogenes’s disregard for powerful figures was recanted as so: Alexander the Great, anxious to meet the famous philosopher, visited him once when he was relaxing in the Craneum at Corinth. Alexander came and stood over him and said, “Ask me of any boon you like.” Diogenes simply replied, “Stand out of my light.” Diogenes believed that a focal point in living a valuable life is to speak one’s mind - even if it is to condemn others, as he remarked, “Of what use is a philosopher who doesn’t criticize?” Socrates, on the other hand, was more introverted in his philosophy. In fact, the only thing that was highly lit during his lifetime was, ironically, his death. Socrates believed that as a human being, he didn’t have to dignify himself through extraordinary exploits and lustrous deeds. Rather, he gave greater weight to thought, as opposed to action – a modus operandi antithetical to that of Diogenes. Socrates noted in his Apology, that young men followed him around “of their own free will,” whereas Diogenes’s philosophy was clearly imposed upon the citizens. Unlike Diogenes, Socrates believed that he had nothing to offer the citizens of Athens. Where Diogenes lived a humble existence to make a statement, Socrates minimized his eminence in an effort to conceal his dearth of knowledge. One anecdote that displays Socrates’s humility and depth is told here: Socrates’s friend Chaerephon told him that according to the oracle at Delphi, there is no one wiser than Socrates. Socrates declared this statement to be false, as he believed that he possessed...
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