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 C - Cynicism


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.

The term "cynic" is derived from the Greek for dog, and the philosophical school of the 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 answered Alexander the Great, when Alexander asked what he could do for him, to step out of his sunlight.

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.


See also: Chamfort, Character, Misanthropy, Ordinary men



 Original: Feb 26, 2007                                                Last edited: 12 December 2011.   Top