What does a cynical person suffer from


The cynicism originally meant the view of life of the ancient Cynics, a philosophical current of antiquity. In the meantime, however, the term has taken on a different meaning. Those who are cynical are extremely mocking and hurt their fellow human beings with their ideas and statements by disregarding their moral values ​​and social conventions or making them ridiculous. Cynicism is based on radical skepticism (critical doubt) and aims to ruthlessly belittle the values ​​and truths of others. Cynicism is related to irony and sarcasm, with differences.


The term goes to the Latin Cynicus back, which is derived from the Greek word Kynikós (Κυνικός) derives. This designated one Cynical philosopher and goes on the Greek nounkynismós (κυνισμός), which is roughly with Maturity translates. This translation echoes the original meaning of the term, which alludes to the teaching of the ancient Cynics.

The Cynical philosophy is characterized above all by an ethical skepticism and lack of need. However, the teachings of this philosophy have been handed down only in fragments and anecdotes, which is why a precise definition is difficult and in modern times is often mixed up with other currents, especially Stoic philosophy. Most of the sources also come from third parties.

Yet: What is essential is primarily the pursuit of needlessness and naturalness, which is also accompanied by the rejection of socially and culturally based values ​​(e.g. shame, nudity or even possession) that have been dismissed as conventions, i.e. as unnecessary fixed rules.

Cynicism in usage

The term was subject to a change in meaning and nowadays it is increasingly negative. In principle, the point is that the cynic still disregards the values ​​of society or its norms and makes them look ridiculous, but at the same time appears extremely mocking and contemptuous of his fellow human beings. It is less about individual statements than about a worldview. An example:

Cynic:“The country is suffering from a growing number of pensioners, because there are more and more old people and fewer and fewer young people who can afford their retirement. The problem could be dealt with by denying the elderly medical care in order to reduce the mortality rate to a normal level and to keep the elderly in check. That would relieve our generation. "

The above example illustrates a cynical worldview. The cynic is radical in his views and violates social norms when he rejects the fundamental thought that life is valuable in his utterance. Furthermore, he clearly hurts his fellow men - here the older generation - when he branded them as ballast for today's generation.

However, it can also be seen that cynicism does not usually work in a brief utterance, but should always be assessed in connection with a person's worldview or a longer exposition. Recipient (Reader, listener) The cynical can only be recognized in a statement if he knows the speaker's views, if the statement is embedded in an explanatory context, or if the recipient has the necessary background knowledge. Another example:

Cynic:“When I look at how things are in Africa now, the clear rules and structures of slavery don't seem to have been the worst. After all, things were going well back then. "

Also in this example the cynic rejects the societal values ​​and moral concepts when he shows in the above statement, which is extremely racist, mocking and hurtful, how he assesses the development of Africa. Here, too, the cynic is radical in his views, rejects the common view that people should be free and continues to hurt his fellow human beings - in this example all people who live in Africa and of course those who stand up for their rights.

Difference: Irony, sarcasm and cynicism

If the cynical was recognized in the statement, it quickly becomes apparent that there is a proximity to sarcasm and irony. But even if the three terms are related and partly similar, they can still be distinguished. Therefore we would like to show the differences.

  • Irony: As a rhetorical stylistic device, it primarily refers to the fact that something is expressed by the opposite. It is important here that it is clear to the recipient that this is the case. Otherwise the ironic will be misunderstood. So a common knowledge that the utterance is ironic is necessary. Irony uses the technique of meaning reversal and is a means of expressing something.

  • Sarcasm: Denotes biting mockery or mockery. Sarcasm can be expressed ironically when the opposite is said. However, it can also be completely free of irony. Sarcasm is - as opposed to irony - not a technique, but an intention of the statement. This should clearly mock and ridicule the recipient. What is meant here can be expressed directly or indirectly.

  • Cynicism: In contrast to irony and sarcasm, describes a kind of state of mind. Cynicism is not a technique, it is a way of life. A cynic rejects central norms and morals of society and makes them look ridiculous. Cynicism is one of those traits. Anyone who ridicules other people's values ​​is deliberately violating and mocking them. However, cynical remarks can be sarcastic and ironic, which is why it is difficult to differentiate in individual cases.

Cynicism as a stylistic device

Even if irony, sarcasm and cynicism are often mentioned in the same breath or understood as an increase, this classification is fundamentally wrong. Actually, they only have in common that all three of them are usually used in a hurtful or derisive manner.

With regard to rhetoric, only one of the three terms can be considered a pure stylistic figure: namely the figure of irony. It belongs to the tropics. A trope is a figure of speech in which there is a break between what is said and what is meant. The speaker is expressing something, but means something completely different. When it comes to irony, he means the exact opposite of what he said. Accordingly, irony is a style figure.

The aim of sarcasm is to make a person or group look ridiculous. It can be expressed indirectly if it makes use of irony, but it can also be used directly. So if sarcasm is ironic, there is also a break between what is said and what is meant, whereby it can then be considered a stylistic device. But if it is direct, it is not a style figure, but at most an attack (see polemics).

Cynicism is a view of things which throws social values ​​overboard and disregards conventions. Thus, the cynic naturally pursues the goal of making the adherents of such values ​​ridiculous and covers them with biting mockery, but that too is not a stylistic device of rhetoric. Cynicism is a quality, a view of life and can be expressed ironically or sarcastically - but not a style figure. Friedrich Theodor Vischer, a German philosopher, put it this way:

Cynicism [...] means a kind of uncovering, dealing with the dirty, treating it with consciousness in such a way that a certain accent falls on it.

Brief overview: The most important thing about the term at a glance
  • Cynicism originally described the ancient Cynics' outlook on life. In the meantime, however, the term has taken on a different meaning. Those who are cynical are extremely mocking and hurt their fellow human beings with their ideas and statements by disregarding their moral values ​​and conventions
  • The cynical is related to irony and sarcasm. However, there are differences. The irony is a stylistic figure that expresses the opposite of what is actually meant, sarcasm means the biting, bitter mockery of a person or group, whereas cynicism is a worldview.
  • The effect of a cynical statement cannot be clearly stated. For the addressee, the statement is hurtful and humiliating, while other people may perceive the statement as funny or humorous. However, the line cannot be clearly drawn.
  • The philosopher Peter Sloterdijk undertook in his treatiseCritique of Cynical Reason (1983) attempts to define the cynic in modern times and concludes that it is "The characteristics of modern power cynicism [are] [the] values ​​such as love, truth, authenticity" his "Will to power and profit" subordinate.

  • Note: Very often sarcasm, irony and cynicism are mixed up in common parlance. However, there are features to distinguish the individual terms, even if a separation is not clear in every case or would not be possible.