Biography of Antisthenes

Antisthenes was a philosopher, founder of the Cynic School of Philosophy and master of Diogenes of Sinope. He was born in Athens in 445 B.C. and died in 365 B.C., at the age of 80.

Antisthenes founded his school in a gymnasium called Cynosarges, which in Greek means “fast dog,” so the members of this school became known as “Cynics,” which in Greek has a meaning of “like a dog. This nickname also derives from the lifestyle that the Cynics led: rejecting social habits and conventions.

His father was Athenian, but his mother was a slave from the Thracian region, so Antisthenes was not considered a Greek citizen in his time. That is why he taught in the gymnasium of Cynosarges, since this was a public place reserved for those who did not have purely Athenian blood.

Antisthenes initially studied with the Sophistic philosophers. The sophist Gorgias of Leontini was his master in rhetoric.

Later, at an advanced age, he became a disciple of Socrates, and was present when Socrates was condemned. Antisthenes inherited Socrates’ ethical teachings, especially the idea of being self-sufficient, having self-control, and enduring fatigue and adversity.


Antisthenes of Athens is said to have written two works, but only a few fragments are known:

  • On the Nature of Animals: a work in which he used the way of life of animals as an example for human life.
  • Hercules: In this work, Antisthenes extols the mythical figure of Hercules who, enduring adversity and fatigue, defeated monsters. Hercules is the symbol of the wise cynic.

Antisthenes’ Philosophy

According to Diogenes Laertius, the doctrine of Antisthenes consisted basically of the following ideas:

  • Virtue can be taught;
  • Noble are those who cultivate virtue;
  • Virtue is sufficient to attain happiness;
  • The wise man is self-sufficient;

Man’s ultimate end is happiness, and it is achieved when we live according to virtue. For the Cynics, virtue is sufficient.

Antisthenes distinguished between two kinds of goods:

  • External goods, such as: property, pleasures, wealth, etc.
  • The inner goods, such as: knowledge, the possession of truth, etc.

It is necessary, according to Antisthenes, to have moderation when it comes to external goods; individuals should not indulge in the pleasures of the world. Pleasures should be avoided, for they are evil and divert man from virtue.

Seeking the inner goods is something more noble. One must, even more, accept the burden of physical and mental pain that comes from the soul’s search for its inner wealth.

The impossibility of definitions

Antisthenes argues that it is not possible to define simple things: we know simple objects by means of perception; and by means of analogies, we describe things. When it comes to complex things, definitions are nothing more than the description of the simple elements of which they are composed.

For Antisthenes, it is not possible for us to make any judgment that would go beyond the principle of identity. Thus, we could not state, for example, that “the man is good”. All predicates, therefore, are false.

Aristotle, in the Metaphysics, confirms this teaching attributed to Antisthenes, he says:

This is why Antisthenes considered that of each thing one could only affirm its own notion, a unique notion of a unique thing.

Meta., V, 29, 1024b, 32

In other words, it is only possible to state that the individual is what he is: “man is man”, “good is good”, etc.


ABBAGNANO, Nicolás. Historia de la filosofia. Trad. Juan Estelrich. Barcelons: Hora, S.A. 1994.

Cite This Work

Vieira, S. (2021, December 13). Antisthenes. Filosofia do Início. Retrieved from

Vieira, Sadoque. “Antisthenes.” Filosofia do Início, December 13, 2021.

Vieira, Sadoque. “Antisthenes.” Filosofia do Início, 13 Dec. 2021,


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