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According to the dictionary, a cynic is:

a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view.

Alice is a cynic. She uses Bob as an example to illustrate her point of view. What's the best term (preferably a single word) she can use to describe Bob?

You could say that Bob is ___________.

For example, given the definition above, you could say that Bob is selfish. However, I believe that this doesn't sum up all of the things Alice believes about him...

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Based on your comments, perhaps a better way to describe the question would be: "Alice is a cynic. She uses Bob as an example to illustrate her point of view. What word would she use to describe Bob?" – e.James Oct 6 '10 at 7:18
Thanks @e.James, I updated the answer. – Senseful Oct 6 '10 at 15:45
Answer: "Reality." – Tom Au Feb 20 '15 at 18:27
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Based on the definition of cynic, some words to describe Bob would be:


  1. Holding one’s self-interest as the standard for decision making
  2. Having regard for oneself above others’ well-being


  1. Having greed (a selfish or excessive desire for more than is needed or deserved, especially of money, wealth, food, or other possessions); consumed by selfish desires


  1. Believing oneself to be better and more important than others

If you are looking for a single word to describe all possibilities, I think selfish is the best choice. Egotistical implies thinking highly of oneself, but this does not necessarily translate into selfish behavior. Greedy is also a good choice, but tends to relate specifically to material possessions.

Update: If you are flexible on the single-word requirement, a suitable phrase would be:


  1. Serving one's own interests, especially without concern for the needs or interests of others
  2. Exhibiting concern solely for one's own interests: a speech full of self-serving comments
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I think the situation that the OP is describing that Bob is not himself cynical, but that Alice believes that Bob's actions are motivated by selfishness. – waiwai933 Oct 6 '10 at 6:50
Alice is the cynical one, not Bob. He behaves that way, but doesn't necessarily believe that others do. – Senseful Oct 6 '10 at 6:53
@waiwai933: The OP states that Alice "is correct" in her assessment of Bob. I understood that to mean that he is cynical. – e.James Oct 6 '10 at 6:55
@Senseful: OK, I think I understand now. Let me think on it. – e.James Oct 6 '10 at 6:56
Sorry it's confusing, @e.James, but @waiwai933 is right – Senseful Oct 6 '10 at 6:57

A cynic is a person that believes these attributes to be true for humanity, not for a single person or group. If she - Alice - would only believe it to be true for Bob, then she would not be a cynic.

If Alice believes that selfishness motivates Bob, Bob would be an egoist or plain selfish.

If Alice believes, and is correct with her believe, that Bob believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view, then Bob would be a cynic no matter whether Alice was one or not.

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@Ralph, sorry the wording was confusing. I updated the question to hopefully be clearer. – Senseful Oct 6 '10 at 15:46

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