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Simon Critchley Gets All Modern About Cynicism

Diogenes is not a name regularly invoked in New York State politics, but the original father of cynicism re-appeared in Albany Senate chambers recently, in the form of a political activist named Randy Credico. This got Simon Critchley thinking.

Credico’s aim was to seek out one “honest politician,” but philosopher Simon Critchley says his choise of costuming demands a reconsideration of the true meaning of cynicism.

The ancient cynic was not a Gawker-reading snarkster but a man and, ones assumes, a woman, who swore to absolute honesty in every word they uttered and action they committed.

Critchley gave some examples of cynical behavior in a Times op-ed. If a man was poor and drank with his hands, the cynic would throw his cup away. To accustom himself to cold, the cynic would cozy up with frozen statues. It was all a genuine effort to stamp out indulgence in the face of the world’s suffering. Perhaps the cynics took their effort rote hypocrisy to an extreme, but “true cynicism,” Mr. Critchley clarified, “is not a debasement of others but a debasement of oneself.” It seems we have come rather far from the original meaning.

Always on the watch for inconsistencies in language and philosophy, Mr. Critchley cleared up the meaning of cheerfulness when he visited Big Think. “The pessimist is the person who is cheerful,” he said in a recent conversation. Speak again, wise Critchley. Apparently, ancient pessimism–and it’s modern correlate–is not simple the contrary of optimism. He elaborated that “a philosophical dispostion is about embracing a certain pessimisn that is not negative but which is a condition for cheerfulness and affirmation.”

This and other mind-benders can be appreciated at Mr. Critchley’s full interview on Big Think.


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