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Difference Between Cynicism and Skepticism

Cynicism vs Skepticism

Cynicism and Skepticism are two concepts and schools of philosophical thought. Some people think that these two concepts are the same, but they do have some important differences. This article will give you definitions of the words, explanations of the concepts, and reasons why and how they are different.

Cynicism, pronounced /ˈsɪnəˌsɪzəm/, is an uncountable noun. The definition, according to the Merriam Webster Learner’s Dictionary, is “cynical beliefs” or “beliefs that people are generally selfish and dishonest.” A person who has cynical beliefs, or beliefs that people generally do things for selfish reasons, is called a “cynic” (pronounced /ˈsɪnɪk/).

You can use “cynicism” in collocations such as “his/her cynicism” and “cynicism about [something].” The word “cynical” is used more often than “cynicism” and is often used in phrases like, “Stop being so cynical” or “Why are you so cynical?”

Skepticism, pronounced /ˈskɛptəˌsɪzəm/, is a singular uncountable noun. The Merriam Webster Learner’s Dicitonary defines skepticism as “an attitude of doubting the truth of something (such as a claim or statement).” Someone with this attitude is called a “skeptic” or is said to be “skeptical.”

Use “skepticism” in such combinations as “[to express] skepticism” and “[to regard] claims with skepticism.” “Skeptical” in often used in the collocation “[to be] sceptical [about].”

The English word “skepticism” comes from a Greek word, “skeptikos.” The Greek word means “to inquire” or “to find out.” Thus, skepticism really just means a way of finding out the truth. We doubt (or “are skeptical”) at first, then when we learn more we can decide if something is true or not.

Skeptics often look for solutions and cynics are much more black and white, focusing on what is not correct. If a cynic and a skeptic are looking at the same problem, they might react in the following ways:

The cynic might say, “Both X and Y are incorrect. We are doing this all wrong.” The cynic immediately takes a negative view of the problem and will not believe evidence that says the problem can be solved.
The skeptic might say, “Let’s look at X and Y again. Can we make one of them work? Maybe Z will work better?” The skeptic must see evidence that one thing works before he or she believes it is the best solution.

As you can see from the above examples, skepticism is more of a positive phenomenon and cynicism is a more negative concept. Skepticism is an open-minded way of thinking about things. Cynicism, on the other hand, is close-minded because it is often a quick reaction or immediate belief that someone is being dishonest.

Many scientists are – and should be – skeptical. Skepticism helps scientists critically analyze information and come up with solutions by testing different ideas.

In a very basic sense, skepticism challenges views and questions if assumptions are correct or not. Cynicism focuses on the negative parts of a problem. It is good to be a little bit skeptical. It is not good to be cynical. Skeptical people want to have evidence of something before they will believe it is true. Cynical people do not trust any information that they do not personally agree with.


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