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The cynicism ( Greek κυνισμός kynismós ; from κύων kyon , "dog") originally referred to the view of life and the way of life of the ancient cynics , for whom, among other things, needlessness and ethical skepticism were central. In German, the term was usually spelled "Cynismus" until the beginning of the 20th century and had several meanings, according to the teaching of the ancient philosophy school of the Cynics, the corresponding "way of thinking and acting" as well as one of the Cynical or cynical ideas or Character appropriate way of speaking.

In today's colloquial language, cynicism, as well as the derived adjective cynical , primarily denotes an attitude, way of thinking and acting that is characterized by biting mockery and often consciously disregards the feelings of other people or social conventions . The Great Dictionary of the German Language cynically defined 1999 as "expressing a callous, compassionate, inhuman attitude that is felt to be contrary , paradoxical and disregarding and hurting someone's feelings , especially in certain matters and situations ," which Duden names as the primary meaning for cynical, "mocking in a cruel, decency-insulting way".

Etymology and conceptual history

Since the 16th century, but especially in the 18th century, a follower of the Cynic philosophy has been called a cynic , mainly through the use of the adjective a 'cynical, mocking, biting, irreverent person'. Origin is the Latin Cynicus , derived from the Greek Kynikós (Κυνικός) 'Cynic philosopher'. In the second half of the 18th century in particular, cynicism referred to an "attitude disregarding morals and values, impurity, shamelessness, ridicule" and, since the middle of the 19th century, a "shameless way of speaking". Before the 18th century, cynical was only rarely used as 'poor eating, without wine', borrowed from Latin cynicus , Greek kynikós (κυνικός) ' doggy , needless like dogs'. Cynic was accordingly a "name for a follower of the philosophy school founded by Antisthenes , whose goal is the return to the natural state and to a needless life without claims". At the beginning of the 19th century, the meaning changed from cynical to '' disregarding and mocking, mocking, biting 'the prevailing values ​​and moral concepts. Tinner described its use in the Historical Dictionary of Philosophy as a buzzword that is “as popular as it is imprecise in France” and as such “gradually found its way into German literature towards the end of the 18th century”. Even in antiquity, the positive image of the needless cynic was contrasted with “the caricature of the unkempt, dirty, shameless and parasitic beggar philosopher for whom religious and ethical values ​​do not apply”, but this negative image only became intellectual property in the 17th and 18th centuries .

Since the 17th century, especially in the German language tradition, the term gradually moved away from its ancient origins, developed increasingly independently and "is diverse in its meanings and diffuse in its use". For Frederick II of Prussia the encyclopedists were “a sect of so-called philosophers that has formed in our day. With the shamelessness of the cynics, they associate the noble audacity to give the best of all the paradoxes that come to mind ”. Adolph Knigge , on the other hand, in his work On Dealing with People "had the enlightened contemporaries in view and not the gross cynic who '[...] despises all the rules which agreement and mutual courtesy have prescribed for people in bourgeois life.'" Friedrich Kirchner defined cynicism in the dictionary of basic philosophical terms of 1907 as “a conception and management of life that despises everything that goes beyond the standpoint of need. Comfort, luxury, and above all propriety, custom, art, science and education are nothing in the eyes of a cynical person; yes, he likes to deliberately mock them. ”He went on to say that“ the better core of cynical doctrine ”has passed into the philosophy of the Stoics ; "But at the same time from the cynicism a haughty and shameless beggarliness developed, to which the name of the cynic was attached". In 1911, Brockhaus' Kleines Konversations-Lexikon called the term cynic a " ridiculous name ".

In his 1964 analysis of ancient cynics and cynicism in the present , Klaus Heinrich distinguished three main types of cynicism. As an “ existentialist protest” it is the contemporary attempt “to withstand the threat of senselessness in a knowing way”. The cynic resigns to the “threatening loss of meaning” by rejecting the recognition of the threat as cynical “for the sake of his self-assertion”. This cynicism finally rejects these “disappointing forms of self-assertion” in resignation and is now “an expression of a mute, knowing indifference”. Iring Fetscher called contemporary cynicism “a last, desperate way of life”. The cynic sees himself as “the powerful who does not need to be considerate”, but is neither indifferent to his “cynical contempt for moral norms”, nor is he lacking a “sense of moral values”. Peter Sloterdijk wrote in his treatise Critique of Cynical Reason in 1983 that "interactions of non-relaxable subjectivisms " "subject communicative reason " to "subject their private conditions to communication". Lack of communication, pretending to communicate and refusal to communicate are "almost the characteristics of modern power cynicism, which subordinates values ​​such as love, truth, authenticity" to its "will to power and profit".

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: cynicism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Brockhaus / Wahrig: German Dictionary 1984, p. 918
  2. Duden: The large dictionary of the German language 1999, p. 4721
  3. cynical in Duden ; accessed on June 25, 2018
  4. Friedrich Kirchner - Dictionary of Basic Philosophical Terms 1907, online at, accessed on December 27, 2011
  5. Brockhaus' Kleines Konversations-Lexikon, fifth edition, volume 2. Leipzig 1911., p. 1042. online at , accessed on December 28, 2011