Misanthropy is the general hatred, distrust or contempt of the human species or human nature. A misanthrope or misanthropist is someone who holds such views or feelings. The word’s origin is from the Greek words μῖσος (misos, “hatred”) and ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos, “man, human”). The condition is often confused with asociality.
Misanthropy has been ascribed to a number of writers of satire, such as William S. Gilbert (“I hate my fellow-man”) and William Shakespeare (Timon of Athens). Jonathan Swift is widely believed to be misanthropic (see A Tale of a Tub and, most especially, Book IV of Gulliver’s Travels).
Molière‘s play The Misanthrope is one of the more famous French plays on this topic. Less famous, but more contemporary is the 1970 play by Françoise Dorin, Un sale égoïste (A Filthy Egoist) which takes the point of view of the misanthrope and entices the viewer to understand his motives.
In Western philosophy, misanthropy has been connected to isolation from human society. In Plato‘s Phaedo, Socrates describes a misanthrope in relation to his fellow man: “Misanthropy develops when without art one puts complete trust in somebody thinking the man absolutely true and sound and reliable and then a little later discovers him to be bad and unreliable … and when it happens to someone often … he ends up … hating everyone.” Misanthropy, then, is presented as a potential result of thwarted expectations or even excessively naïve optimism, since Plato argues that “art” would have allowed the potential misanthrope to recognize that the majority of men are to be found in between good and evil. Aristotle follows a more ontological route: the misanthrope, as an essentially solitary man, is not a man at all: he must be a beast or a god, a view reflected in the Renaissance view of misanthropy as a “beast-like state”.
There is a difference between philosophical pessimism and misanthropy. Immanuel Kant said that “Of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing can ever be made”, and yet this was not an expression of the uselessness of mankind itself. Kant further stated that hatred of mankind can take two distinctive forms: aversion from men (Anthropophobia) and enemity towards them. The condition can arise partly from dislike and partly from ill-will.
Martin Heidegger had also been said to show misanthropy in his concern of the “they”—the tendency of people to conform to one view, which no one has really thought through, but is just followed because, “they say so”. This might be thought of as more of a criticism of conformity rather than people in general. Unlike Schopenhauer, Heidegger was opposed to any systematic ethics; however, in some of his later thought he does see the possibility of harmony between people, as part of the four-fold, mortals, gods, earth and sky.
In the Judeo-Islamic philosophies, the Jewish philosopher Saadia Gaon uses the Platonic idea that the self-isolated man is dehumanized by friendlessness to argue against the misanthropy of anchorite asceticism and reclusiveness.