One afternoon some time ago, I was involved in a conversation around a table at the Hoover Institution. We were debating the meaning of a word. Uncharacteristically for an economist, one of my colleagues noted that this was essentially a factual question, which should therefore be settled by reference to the relevant factual authority: Webster’s dictionary. He fetched the dictionary and read us the following definition: “one who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest.” Simultaneously several of us said “economist.” The word whose definition we had sought and just heard was, of course, “cynic.”
Most of the analysis that follows [in this book] is an economic theory of individual contribution to group action, and one may indeed find it cynical. I am generally concerned with pushing cynical explanations to their limit, to see what they cannot explain as well as what they can; I am not sure what to feel about the fact that they can explain as much as they can. Of those who instantly said “economist” that day, I was the only noneconomist. I said it with a slightly accusing tone. The others, I am convinced, said it with pride. I have since occasionally wondered who was more in the right.
Hardin, Russell. 1982. Collective Action. Baltimore: Resources for the Future.