Definition of Misanthropy
According to the Random House Dictionary, misanthropy is a “hatred, dislike, or distrust of humankind.” Humankind can also include human society. An individual who lives life from a position of misanthropy is known as a misanthrope. The essential feature that must be present to earn the label of misanthrope is that the person’s desire not to interact with other humans stems from a general disgust with the human condition. In Western philosophy, misanthropy is viewed as being isolated from human society. However, misanthropes are capable of – and do have – satisfying relationships with specific individuals. A notable example is Oscar Wilde, who had a wife, two sons, and a lover in his 46-year life.
Origin of the word
The word came about in the 1650s, and is derived from the Greek misanthropia “hatred of mankind,” from misanthropos (see misanthrope ). Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato discussed the concept of misanthropy during the time of ancient Greece, but they did not have a specific word for it.
Socrates saw misanthropes as those who had unrealistic expectations of their fellow man, and when they were repeatedly disappointed in those expectations, ended up hating all men. Plato advocated for “art” to be a mediator of the extreme view of the misanthrope, because he argued that if one knows most men fall between good and evil, expectations will not become unrealistic. Aristotle stated that the misanthrope, because of his solitary state, cannot be a man, but must be a beast or a god.
During the Renaissance (late 15th and early 16th centuries), Aristotle’s view was resurrected and misanthropy was referred to as a “beast-like state.”
Mental Health Considerations
Most misanthropes must guard against too much pessimism in their thinking. According to the magazine, “Psychology Today,” misanthropy is not considered a mental illness, but does present some issues that a person with misanthropic tendencies would do well to consider. People with more negative outlooks on both specific and general life situations are up to three times more likely to develop dementia (“Neurology,” May 2014). Also, negative orientations to things can negatively affect brain health in other ways.
Rather than trying to change basic personality traits (yes, misanthropes are mostly born, not made), developing and maintaining healthy eating, drinking, exercising, and sleeping habits can help minimize the adverse effects negativity may have on the brain.
Words with Very Similar – But not the Same – Meanings
Some words that we use today are used as synonyms of “misanthrope,” although they have different connotations than the original word.
Curmudgeon – a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person (definition also from the Random House Dictionary). This kind of person is argumentative and does not avoid others. Famous people who have reputations of being curmudgeons – whether true or not — are Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and Groucho Marx. A fictional curmudgeon is Oscar the Grouch of Sesame Street fame.
Cynic – 1. a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view. A cynic tends to think the worst of people, and to take a negative view of human behavior (for example, looking for an ulterior motive behind a good deed).
2. One of a group of Greek philosophers, 4th century B.C., who believed that virtue is the only good, that the most important part of virtue is self-control, and surrender to any external influence is beneath human dignity.
Narcissist – is the pursuit of gratification from vanity, or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes, that derive from arrogant pride (Wikipedia). Narcissists have an exaggerated view of their own importance, and feel entitled to get whatever they want. They differ from misanthropes in that they don’t even notice, or have diminished awareness of, the rest of humankind. Others exist to reassure narcissists that they are wonderful.
Asocial – not to be confused with antisocial. This word is the closest of those presented in meaning to misanthropic. An asocial person is not sociable or gregarious; withdrawn from society, is indifferent to or averse to conforming to conventional standards of behavior and can be inconsiderate of others, selfish, and egocentric.
Recluse – a person who lives in seclusion or apart from society, often for religious meditation. Reclusive persons do not separate themselves because they dislike others. Usually, they have a goal in mind and interaction with others falls by the wayside. Solitude is a side-effect of whatever they’re focused on. A person can also become a recluse through fear of, for example, germs or disease they would come into contact with if they interacted with others (one of Howard Hughes’s issues that contributed to his reclusive behaviors).
Antisocial – an individual who acts with complete disregard for, and violation of, the needs and rights of others. The major difference between someone who is misanthropic and someone who is antisocial is that antisocial people will not hesitate to use deceit and manipulation to gain their ends. Almost all con men (and con women) fall into this category.
Misogynist – a person who hates, dislikes, mistrusts, or mistreats women. This is a specific dislike, directed at a specific group – women. The behaviors of the women in the misogynist’s life often do not justify the dislike. W.C. Fields has the historical reputation of being both an alcoholic and a misogynist.
Some Famous Misanthropes
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) – Irish author and satirist. His most famous work is Gulliver’s Travels.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) – British author, who wrote A Dictionary of the English Language.
J.D. Salinger (1919-2010) – author of The Catcher in the Rye.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) – German philosopher. Author of The World as Will and Representation
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) – considered to be the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) – 19th century German philosopher
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) – German philosopher
Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) – Danish philosopher
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) – Czech/German writer
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) – Irish writer. “Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself.”
Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) – American novelist and short-story writer. Some of her stories have been adapted into movies, including Strangers On A Train (1951), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), Ripley’s Game (1974) and Edith’s Diary (1977).
Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) – British artist/painter. He said, “I no more like people personally than I like dogs. When I meet them I am only apprehensive whether they will bite me, which is reasonable and sensible.”
Alceste – protagonist in play The Misanthrope, by Moliere (pen name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) (1622-1673)
Sherlock Holmes (created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887) – fictional character who enjoys the intellectual challenge of solving a problem as opposed to helping a fellow human.
Gregory House (lead character in television series, “House M.D.” The first season was in 2004) – fictional character. Prefers the intellectual exercise/challenge of making a correct diagnosis than actually being of service to individuals with an illness.
Careers in Which Misanthropy is an Advantage
Writer – a mostly solitary pursuit, with many outlets from newspaper or online reporter to playwright, novelist, or author of non-fiction books. Misanthropic traits help an investigative journalist or correspondent uncover truths and facts others may find unpleasant.
Veterinarian – work with animals instead of people. Animals are thought to be more honest, so misanthropic thoughts and behaviors will not be triggered in the workplace.
Philosopher– especially since the advent of online teaching minimizes contact with other human beings. Misanthropes are even more disgusted by vice, corruption, and stupidity than the average person. They therefore can be more successful than the average person at recognizing the need for social change in some areas, and to initiate that change as well.
Criminal Investigator – a vigorous distrust of people comes in handy here, especially when questioning suspects. If detectives, private detectives, police officers, security guards, federal transportation security screeners and correctional officers all have liberal doses of misanthropy in their personalities, they can be more effective with the criminal elements of society.
“I don’t hate people. I just feel better when they aren’t around.” Ã¢â‚¬* Charles Bukowski
“I don’t have prejudice, I hate everyone equally.” — H. L. Mencken
“I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.” Ã¢â‚¬* Samuel Johnson
“You call me a misanthrope because I avoid society. You err; I love society. Yet in order not to hate people, I must avoid their company.” Ã¢â‚¬* Caspar David Friedrich
“I have always hated crowds. I like deserts, prisons, and monasteries. I have discovered, too, that there are fewer idiots at 3000 meters above sea level than down below.” Ã¢â‚¬* Jean Giono, An Italian Journey
“A poet or philosopher should have no fault to find with his age if it only permits him to do his work undisturbed in his own corner; nor with his fate if the corner granted him allows of his following his vocation without having to think about other people.” Ã¢â‚¬* Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Literature
“There is nothing I detest so much as the contortions of these great time-and-lip servers, these affable dispensers of meaningless embraces, these obliging utterers of empty words, who view every one in civilities” Ã¢â‚¬* Molière, The Misanthrope
“Principally I hate and detest that animal called man; although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth.” — Jonathan Swift [a true misanthrope, hating mankind in general, but loving specific individuals]
“I hate all men, the ones because they are mean and vicious, and the others for being complaisant with the vicious ones.” – Molière
“All men are intrinsically rascals, and I am only sorry that not being a dog I can’t bite them.” — Lord Byron George Gordon
“There are two kinds of people in this world, and I hate both of them” – Grumpy Cat
Another Use of the Word “Misanthropic”
Misanthropic Luciferian Order (MLO), according to Wikipedia, “is an occult order founded in 1995 and later renamed to Temple of the Black Light … The MLO consist of the unified belief in “Chaosophy”. They believe that Chaos is the pandimensional plane … with infinite amounts of space and time, in contrast to cosmos, which only has three spatial dimensions and one linear time dimension. … Extreme militant nihilism is taught within the group and they say the true Satanist is not to be a part of the modern society as it [Satanism] is founded upon lies.”