- , ANTISTHENESThe word cynic has undergone a complete turnabout in meaning in the last two thousand years. The Cynic school of philosophy was founded by Antisthenes (born about 440 B.C.), a pupil of Socrates. He took as his starting point the doctrine of his great teacher that virtue rather than pleasure is the chief end of life and constitutes true happiness. From this starting point he argued that because continued happiness is not possible if one has wants and desires that are not satisfied, the wise person is one who looks with contempt on all the ordinary pleasures of life, and lives without regard for riches or honors. Antisthenes had few students because the philosophy he taught required too great an asceticism to be pleasing.Among the most enthusiastic followers of Antisthenes was Diogenes, who carried the principles of the school to extremes, but was probably responsible for making the school so famous.The sect took its name from the Cynsarges, the name of the Greek building, a gymnasium, where the Cynics first met. This gymnasium was outside the walls of Athens. Antisthenes was required to meet his students there because his mother was not an Athenian by birth. Others say the name came from the Greek word for dog, referring to the rudeness of the Cynics, and still others say the name came from a white dog because a white dog had carried away a part of the sacrifice the school offered to Hercules. In Greek Cynosarges meant "white dog." Since the essence of the cynic was self-control and independence, it is odd that the present English meaning is almost opposite, for today's cynic is one who believes all men are motivated by vulgar selfishness.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.