Cynicism: follower of the
philosophy of the cynics; the attitudes of someone who condemns or looks down upon the
usually accepted ends and practises of life.
is derived from the Greek for dog, and the philosophical school
Cynics arose in Antiquity. Its best known member was the
philosopher Diogenes, who is said to have lived in a tun, with hardly
any possessions; to have masturbated publicly; and to have
Alexander the Great, when Alexander asked what he could do for
him, to step out of
The ancient Cynics were a succession of individuals that tried to
find happiness by askesis and by the
personal struggle against desire, indulgence, weakness and false
beliefs; by the rejection of conventional goods like wealth and
reputation and traditional inhibitions; by acquiring and applying the
knowledge of the distinction between natural and artificial virtues; and
by refusing to live by the ordinary beliefs and practices of an
ignorant, confused and corrupt society.
There were Cynics from the 4th century BC till the 6th century AD,
with considerable influences from and on Stoicism. Some were undoubtedly
honest idealists of considerable personal courage; others were evidently
conmen or disturbed.
Of course, there may be rather good reasons to reject
the usually accepted ends and practises of life or society without going
so far, or desiring to go so far, as Diogenes did.
In any case, the
cynics were not men who had no ends or
ideals, but rather men who held that the
ordinary ends and ideals either
were immoral or unpractisable or were held and practised in a
hypocritical way. Especially the last
two tenets seem to be a mostly correct diagnosis of most men, though it
should be added in extenuation that
ordinary men probably can't do
much better than they do.