Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Why Cynicism is Self-Defeating

Posted by Michael Dickens on February 10, 2010

Cynicism is defined as the belief that people are motivated purely by self-interest. This outlook is, almost by definition, self-refuting. This is why.

It is widely accepted that cynicism is a somewhat depressing belief. The word “cynicism” itself has come to be synonymous with a bleak outlook on life, so much so that I am actually having difficulty describing what cynicism has come to mean without using the word “cynical”. The reason this is so is obvious enough: it is considered a bad thing if people are motivated by self-interest alone. But why is it considered a bad thing? Well, it’s because we consider altruism to be morally right and selfishness to be morally wrong. In some senses, selfishness is the ultimate moral wrong. So if nearly everyone agrees that selfishness is wrong, then how can cynicism possibly be correct, that is, how can people all be selfish? If everyone was purely and deeply selfish, then our morality would reflect that. But instead it reflects altruism. The very fact that cynicism is considered a bad thing is evidence that it is not the correct outlook on life, and that people are not entirely selfish after all.

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2 Responses to “Why Cynicism is Self-Defeating”

  1. Linda said

    Okay, maybe so. . .but how has it happened that the cynicism of humorists has become so accepted and so. . .funny? What does it say if cynicism can be both a moral failing and a topic of jokes? Why do you think cynical comedians are popular?

  2. Brandon said

    You can’t say humans are basically selfless just because we express “morals” about altruism. It’s our actions that reflect our true nature and humans have largely been selfish. That’s largely what you observe.

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