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In The Misanthrope, which of the two philosophies express is more realistic?

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lovestinks | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted April 18, 2013 at 2:14 AM via web

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In The Misanthrope, which of the two philosophies express is more realistic?

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

Posted July 15, 2013 at 6:59 AM (Answer #1)

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Between the hatred of hyopcrisy and what Alceste sees as dishonesty on the one hand and the easygoing acceptance of feigning emotions that are not real expressed by Philinte on the other hand, it is clear that Moliere presents Philinte's philosophy or approach to life as being far more realistic. One of the ways in which this is achieved is through the presentation of Alceste as, in spite of his self-avowed hatred of hypocrisy, as something of a hypocrite himself. Note how Philinte rather cannily observes this in Act I scene 1, after Alceste has spent a very long time berating him for his supposed sin of hypocrisy:

The honest Éliante is fond of you,
Arsinoé, the prude, admires you too;
And yet your spirit's been perversely led
To choose the flighty Célimène instead,
Whose brittle malice and coquettish ways
So typify the manners of our days.

For Alceste, who has just expressed his hatred and his distaste for the norms and values of his day which he sees as being based around "simulated friendship" and "dishonestly," it is highly ironic that his heart has not been able to act in accordance with his strongly held beliefs. Instead of picking characters more suitable to his strict notion of morality, his heart has settled on perhaps one of the most unsuitable women in France for him to love: Celimene, who with her "brittle malice and coquettish ways" seems to personify the hypocrisy of the age that Alceste, overtly at least, so strongly hates. This contradiction indicates that Philinte's view on life is much more realistic than Alceste's extreme philosophy, which in reality he is not able to live by. Philinte, by contrast, argues for "a flexible kind of virtue" in society that allows him to endorse "true wisdom," which he defines as "avoiding extremes" and being "wise in moderation." This is far more realistic than Alceste's black and white philosophy that even he cannot live by.

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