Misanthropy is the general hatred, distrust, or contempt of the human species and human nature. A misanthrope is a person who largely dislikes humankind, holding negative views on the species. As English writer Samuel Johnson wrote, “I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.” There could be numerous reasons why a person is a misanthrope. However, rather than discuss the numerous causes that could create a misanthrope, I will be examining the term and usage in a philosophical perspective.
The term ‘misanthrope’ originates from Greek (Misein ‘to hate’ and Anthropos ‘man’). Therefore, it seems fair to start with the Greek philosophers. Plato (who was very idealistic), believed that misanthropes were people who once trusted someone too much. Once their trust was broken, this person could no longer see the good in people, because they assumed every other person was the same as the one who had broken their trust. This created a misanthrope, a person who viewed all humans as evil and deceitful.
Plato, however, believed that misanthropes were over-exaggerating. Humans will always lie, cheat and deceive – its natural. A misanthrope is a person who takes the minor flaws in humanity too seriously. As Plato pointed out, very few people in a community are murderers, or rapists, or criminals. If the vast majority of people in the world were rapists or murderers, then it would be fair to say that all humans are ‘evil’. But, it is only a small minority of people who do these terrible acts. The majority of people will do bad things every now and then – but this is only because they are human. Thus, a misanthrope should not hate, but love other humans. In Plato’s view, love is the only thing that could fix the world.
To Aristotle, a misanthrope is either a beast or a god. Basically, a misanthrope may be a beast, some kind of monster perhaps – and this is why they hate humanity (perhaps like Frankenstein’s monster). However, a misanthrope may be a god instead. For anyone familiar with Greek Mythology (which was the religion during Aristotle’s lifetime), the Greek gods could be very cruel towards making on numerous occasions. Thus, Aristotle figured perhaps a misanthrope was similar to one of the gods, a being who hates mankind because they are superior to mankind.
The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was perhaps the most misanthropic of all. For starters, Schopenhauer was anti-natalist, meaning he assigned a negative value towards birth. There is nothing special about birth, in fact it is more of a cure. Being born simply means you now have to suffer this hellish life.
When you bring a child into this world you shouldn’t celebrate – you should cry because now another human has to suffer a lifetime of meaningless pain and torment. Therefore, you should probably feel contempt towards someone who has just given birth, because, in a sense – that person has brought in another innocent should to suffer.
Misanthropy, in my opinion, is not necessarily as negative as it seems. As a cynical person myself, there are many times when I would classify myself as a misanthrope. I understand that most people do good, are kind and don’t mean any harm. But at the same time, humans can be quite cruel. Misguided or simply ignorant.
For philosophers like Nietzsche and Heidegger, their dislike towards mankind was not because of man’s evil doings, but because of mankind’s stupidity. Many times, people will conform and follow the crowd, never thinking for themselves. Often, we find people following ‘trends’ or holding beliefs that are not really theirs. This is why Nietzsche and Heidegger had a strong dislike towards mankind – because man is easily fooled and deceived. Why should you have respect – or even love – for a species that cannot think for themselves?
When it comes to conformity, there is no denying that this is something that effects all humans. I myself have conformed on numerous occasions to, so to speak, ‘fit in’. Everyone does, but it becomes a problem when people conform and never even realize that they are conforming. For Nietzsche and Heidegger, most people conform to levels that are quite shocking. Honestly, I am bother by how easily deceived people are. It also bothers me when people valiantly defend their beliefs, but when you ask them why they hold those beliefs – they usually cannot answer. I am sure everyone has met a person who simply repeats some socially acceptable or popular opinion, but has no idea what it means or why they even support it.
Thus, in my opinion., if you’re going to hate mankind, it shouldn’t really be because of mankind’s evil doings – it should be because of mankind’s ignorance and gullibility. In fact, it is usually mankind’s blind conformity which leads towards massive acts of atrocity and destruction. As John Lancaster Spalding said, ‘since the mass of mankind are too ignorant or too indolent to think seriously, if majorities are right it is usually by accident.’