Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 169–184 | Cite as

Cynicism and Morality

  • Samantha ViceEmail author


Our attitude towards cynicism is ambivalent: On the one hand we condemn it as a character failing and a trend that is undermining political and social life; on the other hand, we are often impressed by the apparent realism and honesty of the cynic. My aim in this paper is to offer an account of cynicism that can explain both our attraction and aversion. After defending a particular conception of cynicism, I argue that most of the work in explaining the fault of cynicism can be done by referring not to the cynic’s beliefs about humanity, but to the attitude cultivated as a response to that belief. This attitude is hostile to the virtues of faith, hope and charity, upon which relationships and our sense of moral community depend. In conclusion, I suggest that holding the cynical belief is itself immoral, and that cynicism is disrespectful and destructive of morality.


Cynicism Morality Faith Hope Love 



This paper has benefited immensely over many years from discussions with people too numerous to mention. But thanks are due, especially, to Ward Jones and Thad Metz, and to Garrett Cullity, Ilya Farber, Veli Mitova, Brian Mooney and Mark Nowacki.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa

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