What’s the Problem with Cynicism?

Seriously, what?

I frequently come across people accusing others of being ‘cynical’ or ‘cynics’ as though it were some moral failing, a weakness of character.

What exactly is the problem? As far as I see, cynicism is both fairly accurate and an entirely reasonable position to take in the world in which we live.

Thoughts? I’d love an explanation. It doesn’t necessarily have to come from someone who believes with that common opinion – just as long as they know why it happens.

3 Responses to “What’s the Problem with Cynicism?”

  1. From Wikipedia:

    By the 19th century, emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy led to a new and very different understanding of cynicism to mean an attitude of jaded negativity, and a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of other people. Modern cynicism, as a product of mass society, is a distrust toward ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions and authorities which are unfulfilled. Cynicism can manifest itself by frustration, disillusionment and distrust in regard to organizations, authorities and other aspects of society, and can result from a negative evaluation of past experiences.

    Notice the terms denoting negative moral character – ‘jaded’, ‘frustration’, ‘distrust’; this matches my feeling towards use of the word ‘cynical’. It seems as though the word is used to mean ‘overly cynical’ (itself a common enough turn of phrase), which obviously would be a vice of some sort.

    It seems as though one way to approach this question would be to ask whether ‘cynical’ is term of virtue or vice. Is the relevant value “trust in others”? Would a great man be called ‘cynical’? Or would we use some other word to mean ‘having the appropriate amount of trust for others’?

  2. It seems as though the ‘virtue’ that is supposedly lacking is faith in other people or society.

    Thus, skepticism about others’ motivations and activities would be denigrated in the same way (and for probably the same reasons) as skepticism about religion.

  3. I think Hanson put it best.

    If I were to play Devil’s Advocate, I would say that we should not be optimistic, pessimistic, idealistic or cynical but realist.

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