Everyone has heard the story of Diogenes the Cynic, who went around the sunlit streets of Athens, lantern in hand, looking for an honest man. This same Diogenes, when he heard Plato being praised for defining man as "an animal, biped and featherless," threw a plucked chicken into the Academy, saying, "Here is Platonic man!" These tales display Diogenes' cynicism as both ethical and philosophical: He is remembered for mocking the possibility of finding human virtue and for mocking the possibility of knowing human nature. In these respects, the legendary Diogenes would feel right at home today in many an American university, where a professed interest in human nature and human excellence — or, more generally, in truth and goodness — invites reactions ranging from mild ridicule for one's naïveté to outright denunciation for one's attraction to such discredited and dangerous notions.
Read the rest of Leon R. Kass here.