Scepticism and cynicism: Are they irrational?

Scepticism is about doubt to the truth of something, and cynicism is about doubt of the sincerity of people. Cynicism is in a way being a form of scepticism, as by default a cynical person thinks that the majority of people are fuelled by agenda, or selfish interests, and they require evidence to convince them otherwise.

The sceptics

In Ancient Greece, there was a philosophical movement known as the sceptics (skeptics American English), Latinised ‘skepsis’, Greek ‘σκέπτομαι’, which means investigate; inquire, so the sceptics referred to themselves as investigators as they suspended judgement until sufficient evidence. They refused to affirm anything unless the knowledge was legitimate, which has led to the scientific method. The skeptics society formed in 1992 with the aim to maximise sceptical science, and minimise the promotion of pseudoscience, and irrational beliefs. It’s about applying reason, and a strict method, to eliminate the possibility of fake knowledge, and superstition. Everyone is sceptical about something, yet many people blindly accept beliefs because they think it’s correct, rather than knowing it correct.

“Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?” – Carl Sagan

The cynics

In Ancient Greece, there was also a philosophical movement known as the cynics, Latinised ‘Cynici’, Greek ‘Κυνικοί’, which was about living a life by virtue, and one with nature, and are considered as the very first anarchists as they wanted to disband the controls of governments. They lived rejecting the desires of fame, wealth or notable social status, and considered themselves watchdogs of humanity, and criticised people of greed, which many people view to this day as the biggest cause of human suffering. In the 5th century the movement died out when Christianity gained momentum, despite it heavily influencing early Christianity, and even ‘Jesus‘ was described as a cynic.

Modern cynicism, however, has a different meaning, and it’s the general mistrust of people, who are motivated by materialism, greed, wealth, social status, and selfishness, where the sincerity of actions are questioned. It’s also a pessimistic view that humans are difficult to trust, as they mostly have personal agendas that interfere with ethical decision making. Social cynicism is displayed as distrust towards institutions like religious, or political groups, and personally I can understand not trusting politics or religion, as both are disingenuous.

“I’m riddled with cynicism. Whenever anyone says ‘trust me,’ the hairs go up on the back of my neck.” – Charles Dance

Whilst I personally have a desire for humanity to grow in perpetual harmony, I’m not an idiot, and I know that human nature, and instinct very often outweighs the need to use moral foundations, and this is evident in wars, terrorism, political scandals, violent protests as we are seeing in America due to the cynicism towards the actions of the police towards African Americans. This is unfortunately understandable and despite wanting to trust human to do the right thing, desire and selfishness often gets in the way. Scepticism, however, is an essential part of critical thinking, and without it, people would accept any nonsense, and all reason, rationality and logic would disappear.

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