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Misanthropy is a personality trait characterized by a general dislike, distrust, or hatred of the human species or a disposition to dislike and/or distrust other people's silent consensus about reality. The word comes from the Greek words μίσος (misos, "hatred") and άνθρωπος ( anthrōpos, "man, human being"). A misanthrope is a person who dislikes or distrusts humanity as a general rule.
While misanthropes express a general dislike for humanity on the whole, they generally have normal relationships with specific people. Misanthropy may be motivated by feelings of isolation or social alienation, or simply contempt for the prevailing characteristics of humanity.
Misanthropy is commonly misinterpreted and distorted as a widespread and individualized hatred of humans. Because of this, a great number of false negative tie-ins are often associated with the term. An extreme misanthrope may indeed hate the human species generally, but it does not necessarily entail psychopathy. Misanthropes can hold normal and intimate relationships with people, but they will often be very few and far between. They will typically be very selective with whom they choose to associate. This is also where their aversion is most prevalent, because their perspective shows an overriding contempt towards common human faults and weaknesses in others and, in some cases, themselves.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
It is because of that aversion that most misanthropes will often be categorized as loners, living in seclusion. They generally will not find solace or effective functioning in society as a result of their perspective. However, effectively functioning in society has little or no value to the misanthrope, and the prospect of fitting into their culture seems to them like idiocy.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Misanthropy can often be characterized as disillusionment with what is perceived to be human nature. The misanthrope, having grown to expect humans to assume a romantic and simplistic ideal, is consistently confronted with conflicting evidence. On the other hand, the object of a misanthrope's dislike may be a pervasive culture which is perceived as denying human nature wherein in participants do not fully evince said nature. In both cases, the misanthrope views themself as somehow distinct from a majority of the human species.
Overt expressions of misanthropy are common in satire and comedy, although intense misanthropy is generally rare. Subtler expressions are far more common, especially for those pointing out the shortcomings of humanity.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Some philosophers, such as Arthur Schopenhauer, view humanity as a futile, self-destructive species.
In Plato's Phaedo, Socrates states, "Misology and misanthropy arise from similar causes." He equates misanthropy with misology, the hatred of speech, drawing an important distinction between philosophical pessimism and misanthropy. Immanuel Kant said, "Of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing can ever be made," and yet this was not an expression of the uselessness of humanity itself. Similarly, Samuel Beckett once remarked, "Hell must be like... reminiscing about the good old days when we wished we were dead." This statement may be seen as rather bleak and hopeless, but not as anti-human or expressive of any hatred of humankind.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Seneca the Younger, in his treatise On Anger, suggests that one's misanthropy can be mitigated or cured by laughing at the foibles of humanity rather than resenting them. Seneca's Stoic philosophy regarded all forms of anger as corruptions of reason and therefore detrimental to good judgement; he thus argues that hatred and misanthropy must be eliminated for the individual to attain sanity.
In early Islamic philosophy, certain thinkers such as Ibn al-Rawandi and Muhammad ibn Zakariya ar-Razi often expressed misanthropic views. In the Judeo-Islamic philosophies (800 - 1400), 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.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, on the other hand, was almost certainly as famously misanthropic as his reputation. He wrote, "Human existence must be a kind of error." Schopenhauer concluded, in fact, that ethical treatment of others was the best attitude, for we are all fellow sufferers and all part of the same will to live. He also discussed suicide with a sympathetic understanding which was rare in his own time, when it was largely a taboo subject. However, his metaphysics ultimately led him to conclude that suicide was no escape from the suffering of the world. He claimed that the world was one side representation—how we perceived it—and one side will—the underlying indivisible metaphysical matter that was the basis of existence. Because suicide does not allow one to escape from the will (from which all suffering proceeds), it is pointless to kill oneself. Schopenhauer instead suggests aesthetic enjoyment as the only escape from the suffering of the world. This would be along the lines of the cathartic release points of Mozart's Requiem, or the charmingly mysterious smile of the Mona Lisa. He also offers an escape from suffering through compassion; however, he believed that very few are capable of reaching this state, and those who do reach it have rejected their humanity (further demonstrating his misanthropy).
The Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope was a well known misanthrope. Known for his contempt for all human beings and his enormous respect for animals such as mice and dogs, Diogenes dedicated his life to showing that the norms and conventions which most people live by are in fact worthless and utterly counterproductive to true happiness.
- 1 Plato, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo. The Perseus Digital Library.
- Stroumsa, Sarah (1999), Freethinkers of Medieval Islam: Ibn Al-Rawāndī, Abū Bakr Al-Rāzī and Their Impact on Islamic Thought, Brill Publishers, p. 9, ISBN 9004113746
- Goodman, Lenn Evan (1999), Jewish and Islamic Philosophy: Crosspollinations in the Classic Age, Edinburgh University Press, pp. 25–6, ISBN 0748612777
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