Misanthropy

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.

Western thought

Literature

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.

Fernando Pessoa‘s “factless autobiography” The Book of Disquiet has been described as misanthropic.

Philosophy

The circular painting is encased in a square frame and depicts a black-robed, white-bearded elderly man clasping his hands before him. A smaller barefooted man behind him uses a knife to cut the strings to the elderly man’s moneypouch. The elderly man appears so lost in thought that he notices neither the theft nor the thorns that lie in his path. A transparent sphere with a cross at its peak encloses the thief A Flemish inscription at the bottom reads:
Om dat de werelt is soe ongetru / Daer om gha ic in den ru
(“Because the world is perfidious, I am going into mourning”).
The hooded misanthrope is being robbed by the small figure in the glass ball who is holding his purse. That figure is a symbol of vanity. The symbolism in the painting portrays how impossible it is for his actions to lead to giving up the world. The misanthrope also is walking unaware toward caltrops set for him by the world (cast in his path). He cannot renounce the world as he would wish and he is contrasted with the shepherd in the background, who guards his sheep and who is more virtuous than the misanthrope because of his simple, honourable performance of his duties and his sense of responsibility toward his charges.

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.

Persian thought

Certain thinkers such as Ibn al-Rawandi, a skeptic of Islam, and Muhammad ibn Zakariya ar-Razi often expressed misanthropic views.

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.

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