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Popular fallacies:Diogenes lived in a barrel

Posted in Historical articles, Oddities, Philosophy on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

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This edited article about fallacies originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 979 published on 13 December 1980.

Diogenes, picture, image, illustration


Anyone who has heard of Diogenes, the Greek philosopher, knows at least one other fact about him – that he lived in a tub.

Well – he may have lived in a tub, but we have no reason to believe that he did. His main principles were that happiness is attained by the simple satisfaction of simple needs: what is natural must be honourable: conventions contrary to these basic ideas are unnatural.

When Seneca came to write the biography of Diogenes, some three hundred years after the subject’s death, he observed that “a man so crabbed ought to have lived in a tub like a dog.” This opinion found its way into Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable as fact: “Diogenes. A noted Greek cynic philosopher (about 412-323 BC) who, according to Seneca, lived in a tub” – a classic piece of fallacy-making.

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