“Dogs and philosophers do the greatest good and get the fewest rewards.”
This quote by Diogenes of Sinope conveys two key aspects of his philosophical outlook. Let’s break it down:
“Dogs and philosophers do the greatest good”: Diogenes was one of the founders of the school of philosophy known as Cynicism. The term ‘Cynic’ comes from the Greek word ‘kynikos’, which means ‘dog-like’, and Diogenes often used dogs as symbols to illustrate his teachings. Dogs, he argued, lived naturally without pretense or material needs. Similarly, he saw philosophers – at least, those like himself who advocated for a life in accordance with nature and virtue – as contributing significantly to the well-being of society. They do this by encouraging people to question conventions, live with integrity, and prioritize simplicity and self-sufficiency.
“…and get the fewest rewards”: Despite doing the greatest good, in Diogenes’ view, neither dogs nor philosophers receive due recognition or reward from society. This could be because their contributions are not always tangible or immediately beneficial in a material sense. It also reflects the Cynic belief in living virtuously for its own sake, rather than for external validation or reward.
In essence, this quote reflects the Cynic ideal of leading a life of virtue, simplicity, and self-sufficiency, doing good for its own sake, and not being concerned with societal rewards or recognition.