Misanthropy and the Hatred of Humankind

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One way to think about the philosophical significance of hatred is to consider doctrines that are characterised by feelings of hatred. A good candidate is misanthropy, which is often conceived as an attitude of hatred directed at humankind at large. I start by sketching a working account of misanthropy as a critical verdict or judgment on the contemporary condition of humankind as it has become. The criticism is directed at the array of vices and failings that are ubiquitous and entrenched within the wider structures of human life, rather than those of individual persons. In one of its forms, misanthropy manifests itself in feelings of hatred for those entrenched failings and the patterns of awful behaviour which they motivate and sustain - for instance, the figure that Kant called the "enemy of mankind", or the radical eco-misanthropes who populated much American radical environmentalism of the 1980s, with their calls to 'tear down' the 'whole human world'. I then argue that such hateful 'enemies of mankind' represent only one among a set of modes of misanthropy. These have more peaceable affective and practical profiles that offer us forms of misanthropy without hatred. If so, we can think philosophically about hate in relation to misanthropy and about the potential scope of hatred. Thinking about the entrenched vices and failings constitutive of our life as it has become offers a way of intelligibly hating something as large as 'humanity'. But there are other responses to those vices and failings than hatred. I end by speculating that although hateful misanthropy tends to dominate discussions of misanthropy, historically it is the least common. That, itself, might tell us something about the sustainability of hatred.
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Archival date: 2020-09-16
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