The Cynical Turn

What it means to be a ‘cynic’ has taken on connotations not in keeping with its philosophical heritage.  It is often applied to someone  skeptical of the professed motives of individuals and institutions. This limited, defeatist interpretation of a cynic is of someone who recognizes a situation as a sham, but plays along with it anyway – with some bitterness.
The ancient philosophical meaning is both broader and deeper.  What I would describe as the “cynical turn” is one in which an actual situation is recognized as a mixture of inflexible necessity and human convention, which is malleable.  Without the false attribution of necessity blanketing a situation, potential can be seen in the interstices. This clears space for original action – action not merely reactive to actual demands.

While this ‘cynical turn’ is relevant to every field of human endeavor, it’s extremely reflexive and therefore relevant to philosophy itself.

We may recognize that philosophy is not necessarily limited to current academic practices, but has flourished in many alternative modes. In fact, the necessity might be on the other side – that academic philosophy needs to change.  However, the generation of complementary modes has been lacking in the disciplinized model of philosophy practiced in the modern research university. This is despite the fact that new practices might improve the resilience and vigor of academic philosophy in the face of administrative demands for “accountability.”



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