Between Scepticism & Cynicism 

John: Hi Ade! 
Ade: Hi John.

John: I was told the famous Prof. Snips has released his latest book on Scapegoatism.

Ade: Oh!

John: Yea. From what I heard, his delivery on the subject is exhaustive.

Ade: Really?

John: You don’t seem to agree with that submission?

Ade: Well, Prof. Snips is sure a fantastic writer but just because he is so doesn’t make his view on the concept absolute. Before I can come to that conclusion, I will have to read the book from a critical cum analytical perspective.


John: Hi Ade!

Ade: Hi John.

John: I was told the famous Prof. Snips has released his latest book on Scapegoatism.

Ade: Oh!

John: Yea. From what I heard, his delivery on the subject is exhaustive.

Ade: That’s complete Hogwash. I can bet it doesn’t!

John: How can you be so dismissively conclusive? You are yet to read the book after all.

Ade: I don’t need to read the book. For all I care, no one can write a comprehensive work on the concept of Scapegoatism.

As the saying goes – different strokes for different folks. Although all men have the capacity to reason and process information, we do not perform these tasks alike. Our dispositions to ideas, news, and information are largely informed by our belief, culture, intellectual inclination, backgrounds, past experience and so on. Imagine a world where everyone believes every piece of information alike – such will surely be a boring and monotonous. 

There are folks who when fed a piece of information do not swallow them hook, line and sinker without corroborating the evidence. Interestingly, there are others who, no matter the evidences supplied, will not believe it just because it does not agree with their school of thought. One thing is common to all: on regular basis, they come across new ideas/information that challenge their existing school of thought. Their approach cum response to them is however different. Although the former has doubts concerning the plausibility of the information he comes across, he his open minded about verifying it in order to determine its authenticity. The latter on the other hand, from the onset, builds a defensive wall against the piece of information he comes across. He has an absolute and immutable doubt concerning the credibility of any new opinion.

  Let’s draw a line
Take the separate cases of conversations above as case in point. From their manner of responses, each party has expressed different ways of entertaining ideas – indeed, different outlooks or attitudes to life. Two distinct concepts and schools of thought are peculiar to each party: scepticism and cynicism. These two ‘isms’ are different ways of expressing doubts. While the former has a positive edge to it, the latter is has a permanently negative undertone to it. It’s therefore not healthy to find people confuse both concepts and mix them up. The mix up is however not surprising has many commentators on the distinct concepts only have a shallow knowledge of their dynamics. 


Scepticism according to Wiktionary is the practice or philosophy of being a sceptic and by extension a methodology that starts from a neutral standpoint and aims to acquire certainty through scientific or logical observation. One who requires strong evidence before accepting a claim is said to be a sceptic or to be sceptical. To be sceptical means to have reservations concerning ideas, information, and opinions. The term scepticism is derived from a Greek word “skeptikos” which means “to inquire” or “to find out”. 

A sceptic comes across a new piece of information. Although he does not take an absolute opinion of it, he his naturally inclined not to believe it at face value. He has his doubts as regards its validity but open minded about what truth he discovers about it upon due investigation. Just like the cynic, the sceptic has his doubts. He however addresses his doubts and is opened to possibilities. 

Scepticism is a refusal to believe without substantiation or thorough reasoning. Scepticism has an attachment to logos (an appeal to logic or reason). Sceptics are interested in intelligent thinking and proper consideration of things. Although they are often seen to find faults with new ideas, their disposition helps refine them, objectively analyse cases and follow things to a logical end.   The sceptic requires evidence before claims are accepted as fact. He does not accept claims based on the reputation of the person who makes it but makes evidences determine whether the claim is true or false.


Unlike scepticism, cynicism is basically a distrustful attitude. According to Wiktionary, it’s an emotion of jaded negativity or general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of other people. Cynicism is believing the worst of something or someone. Cynicism is about holding a permanent lack of belief concerning new ideas and opinions. The origin of the word cynicism is often credited to an ancient Greek fellow by the name of Antisthenes – a former student of Socrates. The man Antisthenes, due to a series of unfortunate experiences he went through developed a notorious scorn for human virtue. 

Cynics are disbelieving of any advice or information that they do not agree with. For instance, the cynic is indifferent to matters of climate change. Unlike the sceptic who requires empirical proofs to come to terms with the reality of climate change, evidences or proofs do not move the cynic. He believes the supposedly climate change campaign is merely a propaganda and those who tout it do so for selfish reasons and personal aggrandisement. To be cynical means taking a negative outlook and not disposed to accept evidences that surrounds a claim.     

A cynic count among toxic people

Kaleta is apt when he states that a cynics count among toxic people. They are usually hurt by pain of expectations and normalize their pain by destroying all enthusiasm around them thereby bringing everyone to the same level of unhappiness. A cynic is always prepared for the worst and is convinced that nobody does good without a selfish motive. When she is complemented, she thinks such complements are lame and insincere. The tone of a sceptic is often sarcastic, scornful and discouraging. Cynicism is a smartly concealed expression of impassiveness and hopelessness. Cynics readily supply negative/aggressive comments without being able or not caring to substantiate their claims.           

In most cases, scepticism is a positive approach to tackling new ideas, views, and information. It breaks down the wall of absolutism – a case of making things unequivocal. It makes a case for doubts that lead to the verification of the viability or otherwise of things. Such professions as law, programming and statistics, academics, journalism, editing and science require that one is professionally sceptical. In fact, scepticism is a crucial feature of scientific rational since science is all about using variables to analyse data with the aim of testing claims (hypothesis). 

Is a sceptic an “unbeliever”? No! He is just one that requires evidences/proofs to believe a claim. He his initially doubtful about things but not close-minded and subjective to discover its truth and align himself with it. However, while scepticism can be a positive tool, excessive scepticism (especially when not within the purview of ethical scepticism) can be harmful for social, political or spiritual growth. The cynic on the other hand exhibit a trait of perpetual distrust and lack of faith or hope in the turn of events. Cynicism is extreme scepticism and is always within the camps of pessimism, misanthropy, nihilism, fatalism, melancholia paranoia and worse still, dementia. While a sceptic is unwilling to believe without conclusive evidence, a cynic is in a perpetual state of mistrust and unwilling to consider any evidence.  

There is hope

One may wonder if a cynic is hopeless and can never get out of his pathetic condition. Well, no condition should be permanent if one is ready to change it. The first step to finding a solution is to realise that one has a problem. To get out of a seemingly hopeless cynic condition, the victim needs to get to admit that most times, he takes a default posture of negativity over circumstances. Once he genuinely admits to his problem, he can consciously begin to project a more positive attitude until it sticks. Actually, it takes more of not focusing on the negative and less of about the idea of concentrating on the positive. Since one will most likely attract the kind of people that shares one values, a cynic should work on cutting down on friends with the aura of constant negativity about them. Instead of maintaining a culture of apathy, he can begin to breed a culture of curiosity and embrace an analytical /critical mind set.                         

Thorin Klosowski gives an apt summary to the whole matter:

The line between being a cynic and having a critical sense is a close one. The more we look at things critically with an emotional detachment, the more likely we’ll be cynical about it.  

Image credit :GraniteGrok


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