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Are either of or are both of the two philosophies in The Misanthrope extreme?

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lovestinks | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted April 18, 2013 at 2:23 AM via web

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Are either of or are both of the two philosophies in The Misanthrope extreme?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 15, 2013 at 6:49 AM (Answer #1)

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The two philosophies in this play relate to the way we react with those around us and are presented in the characters of the extreme Alceste, who believes we should conduct our relationsihps with each other with "complete frankness" and to "say what we really mean in all circumstances." This is why, in the opening scene of this play, Alceste berates his friend, Philinte, because he has just observed him feigning friendship towards somebody that he does not actually know. Alceste states his impossible ideal to Philinte with the following words:

I expect you to be sincere and as an honourable man never to utter a single word that you don't really mean.

This is of course presented as an impossible standard to achieve, and Philinte is right to try and question Alceste on this stance and to state how this is taking conviction too far. Philinte by contrast believes that "if you live in the world you must observe such outward forms of civility as use and custom demand." Notice for example how he argues his case in the following quote, showing the much more reasonable philosophy that he adheres to:

But surely there are many circumstances in which complete frankness would be ridiculous or intolerable. With all due respect to these austere standards of yours, there are times when it's as well to hide what we really feel. Would it be right and proper to go round telling people exactly what we think of them?

It seems therefore apparent that Alceste's hatred of what he sees as "simulated friendship" and his prizing of honesty above all else, including societal norms and vlues, is an extreme exaggerated view that does not work in the real world, as the problems Alceste gets into demonstrates. Philinte's opposing view, by contrast, is shown as being much more reasonable and pragmatic.

 

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