Question from a fan of Diogenes

Robert asked:

I am a huge fan of Diogenes. I would like to know why he chose Athens instead of retreating quietly into the hills. Any speculation is welcome.

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

If you wish to make a spectacle of yourself, you don’t chose a mountain retreat! Since you admire him, you may be disinclined to accept my opinion that he was a consummate hypocrite. But some time later, he got into a conversation with a wealthy man, who probably wondered the same as you do, why this man affected such a contemptible public exposure for himself. He received an offer to educate the latter’s children in affluent, comfortable circumstances and immediately abandoned his tub. So there is your answer. Make of it what you will.


Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

There’s a great image of Diogenes by the Victorian painter John William Waterhouse (1849–1917) which I have reproduced at, juxtaposed (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) with a quote from the essay by Karl Marx ‘On Money’ from the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. I’m a fan, because I believe that philosophers should actively seek to cause offence, and whatever else you think about him, Diogenes certainly succeeded in doing that. He was obnoxious, and also fearless. He told Alexander the Great to ‘get out of my sunshine’. The dog philosopher who pissed and shat in the street. Like the audience watching Nietzsche’s tightrope walker, we can enjoy the colourful spectacle without putting ourselves at any risk.


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