sarkology

de facto cynicism

Posted in Uncategorized by sarkology on July 7, 2012

Cynicism is the tendency in someone to ascribe ‘low’ motives to human behavior.  For instance, a rich philanthropist is not looking after the poor but after his own image as a generous person.

Truth (for our purposes here) is the property of something being indeed the case. For instance, God does not exist, since God does not in fact exist.

Suppose you believe that God exists, then I say you are being cynical about the truth of God’s existence. Why? Because you do not actually care that God exists. If you did, you would realize the tragic (according to your unreflective values) fact that God does not in fact exist. You would then go after the next best thing. Perhaps salvage those parts of your religion which you still hold dear in spite of God’s non-existence. To not be cynical about the truth of God’s existence, you would need to have the attitude of conditionally believing that: 1) if counterfactually God did exist, that God exists 2) if God did not exist, that God does not exist.

In particular, if you indiscriminately choose to ascribe ‘high’ motives to human behavior, then you are in fact cynical about human behavior! In fact, much worse than that: you are cynical about the very possibility of a motive being ‘high’. As with not wanting to believe the truth implying that you do not care about the truth either way, not bothering to see low and high behaviors where they respectively occur implies that you really do not care for any specific behavior being high or low.

There should be a  Litany of the Idealist. Which is not about indiscriminately ascribing high motives to human behavior, but about the commitment to actually caring about high motives at all.

If a behavior is lowly motivated, I desire to ascribe to it low motives.
If a behavior is highly motivated, I desire to ascribe to it high motives.
If a behavior is lowly motivated, I seek to address that sorry state of affairs (the work involved is usually non-trivial, but try we must)
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4 Responses

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  1. Grognor said, on July 9, 2012 at 6:36 am

    Ironically, ascribing widespread failures and injustices to incompetence rather than malicious intent is *also* called “cynical”, which is one reason of many to believe that cynicism and idealism are mere attitudes/tribes/signals, and not epistemologies.*

    To the extent that people are wrong about how bad the world is, without trying to fix their understanding to make it more accurate, your post applies. On the other hand, that’s pretty cynical of you, isn’t it? To say that people “don’t really care” about motivations, when you observe that they’re no good at seeing the true ones? I’d ascribe the failure to incompetence, not apathy.

    *Same definitely goes for optimism and pessimism, and possibly also naturalism vs. non-naturalism and realism “vs.” instrumentalism

    • sarkology said, on July 9, 2012 at 11:37 am

      “ascribing widespread failures and injustices to incompetence rather than malicious intent is *also* called “cynical””

      You mean the other way round I think?

      I think we have different razor’s 🙂 https://twitter.com/afoolswisdom/statuses/139494208728870912

      Hence I don’t think there is a dichotomy between saying someone is incompetent vs. saying they are evil. They are partly incompetent and partly evil. To get them to change it is sometimes more productive to assume one or the other, or a mix of both.

      On epistemology vs. attitude, it’s definitely attitudinal how most people use the term “cynical”. I’m just doing a sort of Socratic dialogue type thingy if you will, where I extrapolate their understanding of the term. The purpose of all this of course is to get them to realize their mistakes, but also to make them realize that parts of themselves truly are evil, and is something they do have to contend with. I have no problem with this sort of “ad hominem”. The justification of which you can read here: https://sarkology.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/how-is-influences-ought/

  2. M said, on July 9, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    You give us the conventional definition of cynicism, then proceed to act as if you had defined it as not caring about the truth instead. When corrected it’s not clear that there’s anything interesting here.

    • sarkology said, on July 9, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      No. Not not caring about the truth! Perhaps because you are not religious you think of God’s nonexistence as some boring fact. But the religious person claims to care that God exists because of what that fact would imply about how they should live their lives, and the value they see in the universe (according to their religion). So here I’m trying to show that by their own value system the fact that they believe in God turns out to be a cynical attitude (again I stress that this is relative to their value system). It’s not about the truth per se. But the truth of a specific issue (God’s existence) since according to their religion it holds such great significance.

      The idea of the post is that cynicism is a useful concept, but it should not be only superficially attached to certain beliefs. Rather, non-cynicism is about caring enough to understand where our motives are in fact low and where our motives are in fact high, so that we might reliably achieve the high motives we care about.

      What do you mean by corrected?


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