What is misanthropy? In the average, everyday understanding, that is, the ontic understanding of misanthropy—and indeed if one were to look up a definition of misanthropy in a dictionary, it is defined as a hatred, dislike, or distrust of mankind. This everyday ontic understanding of misanthropy has to do with the realm of relations between people; it pertains to the public, social world. This ontic understanding in the public, social realm is generally taken for granted; that is, this understanding is one that is already there—it is in a fore-having—the background familiarity which makes up cultural social practices. For Heidegger, we as Dasein (human beings; “there being” in the German) exist in our world of referential relations of equipment through the unitary mode of being-in-the-world. Included in being-in-the-world is understanding; indeed, all understanding is made possible through our existing in our world of equipment (readiness-to-hand and presence-at-hand) and other Dasein (being-with). Our understanding in the world includes a fore-having, fore-sight, and fore-conception. The fore-having has to do with our already present background familiarity of our social practices. Fore-sight has to do with our circumspect activity of using equipment. And lastly, fore-conception has to do with the definite conception of what is encountered in fore-sight that is decided upon in the fore-having. Through Dasein’s mode of Being—existentiality, Dasein projects itself into possibilities, and this projecting contains an understanding.
It is in this projecting within the everyday understanding of the public world, what Heidegger calls the they, that we will show the ontic understanding of misanthropy is attained and applied—projected upon. But is there an underlying structure or meaning of misanthropy that gets covered over in the ontic projection? If so, does this point to an ontological understanding of misanthropy? What would that even look like? We are tasked with giving a general (albeit brief) sketch of this ontological understanding of misanthropy and showing how it enriches the idea of misanthropy in general.
Our method will be formal indication—a method where one investigates an idea in the everyday understanding, showing its features to be inessential and contingent, and then seeks to ascertain what is essential.1
As we have said, within the everyday ontic meaning of misanthropy lies notions of hatred, dislike, and distrust of mankind. This pertains to the public, social world in which one can project oneself upon this notion of misanthropy, thereby designating oneself a misanthropist. This is articulated in the discourse: “My misanthropy is based on the evidence: most people, most of the time, are pin-headed bottom feeders [. . .]”2 This everyday ontic understanding of misanthropy is taken for granted in fore-having. One is thrown into one’s world with this concept already in place. This ontic interpretation points to the disgust and repulsion of others in general. But what is revealed in the pointing turns out to be a disgust and repulsion of certain motivations of behavior; that is, this ontic misanthropy is in the first place a disgust and repulsion toward one’s ideological praxis. The one claiming to be a misanthropist, in his gesture of disgust and repulsion toward social leeches, is motivated by the values of the leechlike person, which is responsible for the person acting out irresponsibly. This everyday ontic understanding of misanthropy is a reaction to the perceived or imagined negative behavior of another.
Besides misanthropy being taken up as a reaction, one can adopt the ontic interpretation of misanthropy arbitrarily out of the fore-having. One can base this misanthropic ideology on preconceptions; one can arbitrarily presuppose the view that the whole of mankind is from the outset worthless, or corrupt, or inherently “evil”. The meaning of the statement that misanthropy is generally taken for granted now becomes clear. One baselessly clings to so-called, unthought-out misanthropic preconceptions.
This so-called misanthropist who is operating out of the everyday ontic meaning of misanthropy shares similarities with his religious counterparts. In various forms of religious extremism and fanaticism (and even religion in general) this same disgust and repulsion toward the whole of mankind rears its head. Both the misanthropist (operating in the everyday understanding) and the religious extremist hold negative views about the nature of Dasein—both presupposing that Dasein’s nature is malevolent and detrimental. Of course, the religious extremist is also operating under his everyday ontic understanding of his particular religious ideology—it having its own fore-having which is projected upon in the they. Both the misanthropist and the religious extremist operating under the ontic understanding have not rationally investigated their views. It becomes obvious as to why rational investigation has not been sought out—both are operating under their fore-having. The background familiarity is taken for granted as already being in place.
But in showing the phenomenon of the ontic understanding of misanthropy, have we shown the inessential features of misanthropy? What about the essential? What about an ontological understanding of misanthropy?
What is inessential about the ontic understanding of misanthropy is the arbitrariness in which it is taken up out of fore-having and projected upon. This points us to a positive feature of misanthropy which is to be understood in an ontological sense. Ontological misanthropy is modified out of the ontic fore-having, which is projected upon after having gotten rid of the inessential arbitrariness; that is, ontological misanthropy is founded on rational reasons—having been assessed from investigating the everyday ontic understanding. So, what is ontological misanthropy in its grounding upon rationality?
Ontological misanthropy looks more broadly at the relations of Dasein than the everyday ontic dealings with others locally in the world; it assesses more globally how divided and decadent we have become in our ideological dealings with one another. It is not a fundamental rejection of human nature, which can be seen in the ontic understanding of misanthropy and in religious extremism. On the contrary, it accepts the fundamental condition of Dasein. It notices how cut off (existential aloneness) we have become from each other and how poorly we treat others because of arbitrary ideological reasons. Ontological misanthropy is a disgust and hatred of our present state of ontological neurosis—of how poorly we deal with others due to arbitrary, groundless ideology, which leaks down to the ontic level of our everyday understanding and dealings locally. It assesses our duty to investigate our views and beliefs which arise arbitrarily out of fore-having, and to rationally investigate our positions. This ontological misanthropy—far removed from the everyday understanding of misanthropy, has a parallel to secular humanism—placing humanity in the sole responsibility of creating positive values and refusing superstitious, inhumane ideology. It is the burden which presses upon every Dasein to assess its views, and to erode the division between each of us which is due to our bunk ideology. Our prevailing relations with each other have become dysfunctional, and ontological misanthropy is seen there in the midst—acting as a catalyst for changing the divide; indeed, it first paves the way for the condition of secular humanism.
1 An essay on Heidegger’s methodology by Hubert Dreyfus: http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~hdreyfus/185_f07/pdf/HeideggerHandout04Sept07.pdf
2 Quote provided by Urban Dictionary: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=misanthropy