Who Is the Most Cynical Person?

(Last Updated On: March 24, 2021)

You might think that one super pessimistic downer friend or coworker you have is the most cynical person. You know, the one who doesn’t trust anyone, hates everything, is grumpy all the time and really just kills the mood. If you don’t know who that person is, we’ve got some bad news for you (we’d know, we’ve been that person). But if you feel bad for being a cynic, or you really hate your local one, maybe you’ll feel a little better knowing there was a guy who had “the cynic” attached to his name. So who is the most cynical person? Or uh… Was. He’s dead now.

Cynicism

It would probably behoove us to go over what Cynicism even is, and you might find it’s changed over time. Which makes sense, because the earliest Cynics go back as far as the 5th Century BC. The foundations of Cynicism are not as… Pessimistic as you might think at face value. Our bedrock is finding meaning in life–which is kind of how most schools of thought operate. It’s just about where you derive that meaning. For Cynics, that meaning comes from living virtuously, which is to say “morally good.” Getting into all the different facets of what constitutes “virtue” is another philosophical rabbit hole and we’re just here to talk about funny cynical people. 

How did Cynics obtain virtue? Mostly by rejecting wealth, power, or fame–which was considered the more conventional desire in life. Which has honestly not really changed. By rejecting these desires, Cynics led simple lives free of possession to become one with the state of nature. Which eventually evolved into not owning anything and not really caring. This would lead to a kind of mental clarity, free of mindlessness and false belief. Taken to its extreme, this comes with the complete, shameless rejection of all social norms. 

Why reject norms and possession? Cynics believed they served no purpose to their state of nature, and thus espoused the asceticism we were talking about. This, by proxy, meant that Cynics also enjoyed lives of hardship and toil. No, this did not mean lots of manual labor in some Sisyphus-like nightmare. It just meant choosing a hard life because… Reasons. This will be important later. 

Cynic Dogs 

Perhaps one of the most telling indicators of Cynic life is the name (what a concept). But the word is rooted in the Ancient Greek for “dog,” and there are theories as to why this is the case. One holds that Antisthenes, the first Cynic, taught in Cynosarges. It was a gymnasium in Athens, whose name loosely translates to “the place of the white dog.”

Sounds easy, right? Cynics taught at a gymnasium named after dogs, that’s why they’re named as such. Except you’ve probably figured out that calling someone a dog is pretty rude. This was no different in Athens, and Cynics were often insulted as such. They were said to live like dogs–that is to say with extreme indifference. Eating and sleeping in public and generally just not being modest at all. If you have a dog and if they’ve just decided they’re going to hump the guests’ leg because they don’t care, you know what we’re talking about.

Cynics were also loyal to one another, friendly to other Cynics but vehemently driving those unfamiliar away. Oh, also Cynics really liked Cerberus, that cool 3-headed dog. 

Diogenes

While Antisthenes is considered the first Cynic, it would be Diogenes who would literally be named “the Cynic.” How cynical was Diogenes? Well after being kicked out of Sinope and moving to Athens, Diogenes threw away everything he owned save for some rags (to cover his junk) and a little wooden bowl to eat and drink out of. He’s said to have lived out of a ceramic jar or barrel now and then too.

Now you might be thinking based on what you’ve already read “well a bowl is a material possession?” You would be right, and it’s said that one day, Diogenes figured this out too. One of the more well-known moments of his life has to do with it. One day, Diogenes saw a child drink out of a puddle with their hands cupped. Presumably, it occurred to Diogenes that he didn’t need a bowl because he had two attached to the ends of his arms. Then he threw the bowl on the ground.

Yes, there are paintings of this.

Diogenes found bathrooms to be an indulgence, and you know exactly where this is going. He would pop a squat in the middle of conversation (often about Cynicism) and pee on people who insulted him. Because if you’re going to eschew norms and not care what people think about you, might as well go all the way. 

Plato

Oh also Diogenes hated Plato and would mess with him a lot. You know the whole “a man is a featherless biped with broad, flat nails” thing. Originally this started as just “featherless biped,” but Diogenes changed that by walking into one of Plato’s lectures with a plucked chicken and said “Behold! I’ve brought you a man!”

Nice. 

Diogenes was largely known for his keen wit, even though he’d poop and loudly eat in public (you weren’t supposed to eat in public in Athens). It’s said that the only request he had for his body after dying was just to throw it out and let the animals feast on it. 

Diogenes Syndrome

Funnily enough there’s a thing called Diogenes syndrome and it’s the most not-Diogenes condition ever. It’s characterized by self-neglect and hoarding. The latter is uh… Exactly the opposite of a man who lived in a jar. 

So there’s a fun fact you can randomly drop with your friends in conversation like Diogenes would drop his logs. 


More philosophy quizzing shenanigans here

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.

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