10-Minute Talks: The function of cynicism at the present time
by Professor Helen Small FBA
25 Nov 2020
The world’s leading professors explain the latest thinking in the humanities and social sciences in just 10 minutes.
Broadly described, a cynic (in the primary modern sense) is a person given to casting doubt on the motives that drive other people. Often disparaged, cynicism is nevertheless part of the range of ways in which most of us may sometimes choose to engage with others – momentarily tuning up the aggression of our own intelligence.
In this talk, Helen Small considers the characteristic features of cynicism, its origins and development as a philosophical branch, and what role it has played in public moralism from the 19th century onward. Treating a range of literary and philosophical writers, she explores the strengths and limitations of cynicism in our present cultural context, amid what is widely seen as a weakening of the norms of expression for public arguments.
Her book, The Function of Cynicism at the Present Time was published by Oxford University Press in June 2020.
Speaker: Professor Helen Small FBA, Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, University of Oxford