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This cynic did nothing but saboter the civilisation of the time. He was the nihilist of Hellenism. He created nothing, he made nothing. ~ José Ortega y Gasset
Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. ~ Charlie Chaplin
Irony differentiates. Cynicism never does. ~ Paul Horgan
The greater part of the truth is always hidden, in regions out of the reach of cynicism. ~ J. R. R. Tolkien

Cynicism is a term which originally referred to the ancient Greek philosophy of the Cynics, often considered to have been founded by Antisthenes. Currently, the word "cynicism" generally refers to the opinions of those who are inclined to reject appearances of sincerity, human virtue, or altruism, and maintain that self-interest is the primary motive of human behaviour. The most extreme forms of cynicism can lead to anomie and nihilism.

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  • Cynic: An idealist whose rose-colored glasses have been removed, snapped in two and stomped into the ground, immediately improving his vision.
    • Rick Bayan (b. 1950), U.S. author, copyrighter and cynic. The Cynic’s Dictionary (1994)
  • The cynic is one who never sees a good quality in a man and never fails to see a bad one. He is the human owl, vigilant in darkness and blind to light, mousing for vermin, and never seeing noble game. The cynic puts all human actions into two classes — openly bad and secretly bad.
    • Henry Ward Beecher, in Lectures to Young Men: On Various Important Subjects (1860) Lecture IV : Portrait Gallery
  • Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.


  • Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.
  • Cynicism is full of naive disappointments.
    • Mason Cooley (1927-2002), American aphorist. City Aphorisms (1984)
  • Cynicism formulates issues clearly, but only to dismiss them.


  • Cynics are disappointed romantics; they keep looking for someone to admire and can never find anyone.
    • Len Deighton, Stated by the character, Byrd, in An Expensive Place to Die (1967), Ch. 34


  • People who are stupid, unscrupulous, or hypocritical, think that others are just the same. And — this is the real pity — they treat them as if they were.


  • I was too green to know that all cynicism masks a failure to cope – an impotence, in short; and that to despise all effort is the greatest effort of all.
  • Cynicism is cheap – you can buy it at any Monoprix store – it’s built into all poor-quality goods.
    • Graham Greene (1904–1991), British novelist. The Comedians (1966), pt. 1, ch. 1, sct. 3


  • A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.
  • Irony differentiates. Cynicism never does.
    • Paul Horgan, in Approaches to Writing (1973), No. 398
  • Those who are too weak to make a stand against reality have no choice but to obliterate themselves by identifying with it. They are never rationally reconciled to civilization. Instead, they bow to it, secretly accepting the identity of reason and domination, of civilization and the ideal, however much they may shrug their shoulders. Well-informed cynicism is only another mode of conformity. These people willingly embrace or force themselves to accept the rule of the stronger as the eternal norm.
  • There is a principle, supposed to prevail among many, which is utterly incompatible with all virtue or moral sentiment; and as it can proceed from nothing but the most depraved disposition, so in its turn it tends still further to encourage that depravity. This principle is, that all benevolence is mere hypocrisy, friendship a cheat, public spirit a farce, fidelity a snare to procure trust and confidence; and that while all of us, at bottom, pursue only our private interest, we wear these fair disguises, in order to put others off their guard, and expose them the more to our wiles and machinations.
    • David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751), Appendix 2


  • Cynicism isn't smarter, it's only safer. There's nothing fluffy about optimism.


  • I once said cynically of a politician, "He'll double-cross that bridge when he comes to it."


  • Cynicism is intellectual dandyism.
  • A society that is in its higher circles and on its middle levels widely believed to be a network of smart rackets does not produce men with an inner moral sense; a society that is merely expedient does not produce men of conscience. A society that narrows the meaning of ‘success’ to the big money and in its terms condemns failure as the chief vice, raising money to the plane of absolute value, will produce the sharp operator and the shady deal. Blessed are the cynical, for only they have what it takes to succeed.



  • The worst cynicism: a belief in luck.
  • All I ask of you is one thing: please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism — it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen.
  • Diogenes, in his mud-covered sandals, tramps over the carpets of Aristippus. The cynic pullulated at every corner, and in the highest places. This cynic did nothing but saboter the civilisation of the time. He was the nihilist of Hellenism. He created nothing, he made nothing. His role was to undo — or rather to attempt to undo, for he did not succeed in his purpose. The cynic, a parasite of civilisation, lives by denying it, for the very reason that he is convinced that it will not fail. What would become of the cynic among a savage people where everyone, naturally and quite seriously, fulfils what the cynic farcically considers to be his personal role?



  • The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.
    • George Bernard Shaw, The World (18 July 1894), Music in London 1890-1894 being criticisms contributed week by week to The World (New York: Vienna House, 1973).

  • A cynic is a person searching for an honest man, with a stolen lantern.
    • Edgar A. Shoaff, as quoted in Bathroom Almanac (1981) by Gus McLeavy, p. 8


  • The greater part of the truth is always hidden, in regions out of the reach of cynicism.
    • J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter to his son, Michael Tolkien, 1st November 1963, The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Allan and Unwin (1981), p. 336


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