Diogenes’s statement “Poverty is a virtue which one can teach oneself” reflects a central tenet of his philosophy, which is often identified with Cynicism. In expressing this thought, Diogenes underscores the viewpoint that poverty is not simply a lack of material possessions but rather a virtue, an intentional and chosen way of living. His philosophy places a strong emphasis on asceticism, the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, often for religious reasons.
In this context, teaching oneself poverty as a virtue implies active engagement in rejecting material and financial excess, and adopting a life that is deliberately simple and free from the burdens and complications that come with wealth and possessions. Diogenes himself is famous for his ascetic lifestyle, living in a large ceramic jar (not a barrel as often stated) and owning nothing but a cloak, a bag, and a bowl – and later discarding the bowl after seeing a child drink water from his hands.
Thus, his viewpoint proposes that an individual can actively cultivate poverty as a virtue, learning to detach oneself from material desires and the pursuit of wealth. This, in turn, allows one to live in a manner that is more authentically connected with one’s true nature, free from the distracting and often corrupting influences of material wealth and societal expectations. It also implies a form of self-sufficiency and independence, where one’s happiness and well-being are not tethered to external possessions or status but are instead found within oneself and one’s philosophy of life. It’s a life where material needs and desires are minimized to focus on spiritual and philosophical pursuits. This idea may lead to a life where moral and ethical considerations are paramount and not subject to compromise due to material or social pressures.