This is a trope applying to the dynamics of groups of four. While the Four-Temperament Ensemble seeks to classify members by their personality, this trope classifies members by their outlook, or life philosophy, especially as demonstrated when the Group is faced by a problem or challenge.
Keep in mind that this trope crops up in more character-driven works and will probably be absent from a work where the group of heroes are more cohesive or single-minded. That is to say, if there isn't much argument within the group, then they never have much chance to demonstrate the differing traits making up this trope.
The dynamics for this trope are very effective because it combines the best parts of a Good Cop/Bad Cop or a Red Oni, Blue Oni binary (The Cynic vs The Optimist) and a Power Trio, (The Cynic - The Realist - The Optimist) placing The Realist in between the two opposing views, along with a fourth member (The Apathetic) to contrast all of them at once, including a fourth dimension to the argument, and even the potential for a fifth to be conflicted over the issue, often resulting in a Three Plus Two. All of this in a package that can even be coupled with the Four-Temperament Ensemble for double the fun. This is some serious Cast Calculus.
A Four-Philosophy Ensemble intro:
- The Cynic
- Common Attributes: Logic, practicality, criticism, Reason Before Honor, free of guilt in doing what's necessary, Deadpan Snarker, hostility or antagonism, caution, prioritizes survival over other goals, skepticism, shoots first (might ask questions later), lacks compassion for people unwilling to make painful choices, deadly battle-finisher, disregard for social norms such as rules or politeness, questionable morality, book smart or street smart.
- Common Characterizations: A defiant Red Oni, pure Bad Cop, The Cynic, The Spock, Anti-Hero, Knight in Sour Armor, The Snark Knight, Grumpy Bear, The Rival, The Unfettered, Only Sane Man, Byronic Hero
- Most Common Perspective: Black-and-Gray Morality, Black-and-Black Morality, a hypocritical version of Black and White Insanity,note a stickler for ritualistic/letter-of-law absolutes (but still Unfettered)
- Most Common Temperaments: in the skepticism/caution cases Melancholic; otherwise Choleric. note
- Most Common Blood Type Association: Type A or Type O
- MyersBriggs types in general: Thinkers, generally __TJ
- The Optimist
- Common Attributes: Determination, loyalty to ideals, Honor Before Reason, morality or friendship over rules, self-sacrifice, feelings over facts, lack of forethought, disregard for consequences, relentlessness (even stubbornness), optimism, blind faith, naivety, prioritizes 'the right thing' over survival.
- Common Characterizations: Either Oni type, pure Good Cop, The McCoy, The Pollyanna, The Fettered, Ideal Hero, Nice Guy, Genki Boy/Girl, The Determinator, Messianic Archetype, Plucky Girl
- Most Common Perspective: Black-and-White Morality, White-and-Grey Morality, Good vs. Good
- Most Common Temperament: Usually Sanguine, though in moralistic, idealistic cases Phlegmatic.
- Most Common Blood Type Association: Type AB or Type B
- MyersBriggs types in general: Feelers, generally E_F_ and __FP types
- The Realist
- Common Attributes: Takes the middle ground or Take a Third Option, mediation, objectivity, decisiveness, balance between the group's well-being and the goal, personal code, disciplinarian, calm or quiet, leadership, experience, adaptability, and willingness to bend the rules.
- Common Characterizations: Red Oni (usually), a Good Cop, The Kirk, The Captain, Supporting Leader, The Fettered, Only Sane Man (in certain ways), Team Mom / Team Dad, Mentor Archetype, Reasonable Authority Figure
- Most Common Perspective: Gray-and-Grey Morality, Black/White with Grey Morality,note Blue and Orange (optional) included in a Morality Kitchen Sink
- Most Common Temperaments: Either Melancholic or Sanguine.
- Most Common Blood Type Association: Type A or Type B
- MyersBriggs types in general: Variable; often __FJ or EN_P
- The Apathetic
- Common Attributes: Aloof or busy, uninvolved or neutral, different background or culture from other characters, different goals or priorities than other characters, perhaps enigmatic and lacking apparent goals at all, mysterious, ambivalent or not invested in the outcome, just along for the ride, silly or crazy, inactive, observer, support member.
- Common Characterizations: Cloud Cuckoolander, Supporting Protagonist; a) in more Blue Oni Smart Guy cases The Quiet One, Non-Action Guy; b) in more stolid, carefree cases The Unfettered, Jerkass, Sociopathic Hero, Wild Card, Straw Nihilist, The Hedonist, Token Evil Teammate
- Most Common Perspective: Blue-and-Orange Morality, It Amused Me, Bystander Syndrome
- Most Common Temperaments: Phlegmatic, for general laziness, or Choleric for lack of regard for others' affairs
- Most Common Blood Type Association: Type AB or Type O
- MyersBriggs types in general: E_TP or any _S_P
Occasionally the group will be joined by a fifth, called The Conflicted, or The Conflicted will replace The Apathetic.
- The Conflicted
- Common Attributes: Indecisive and conflicted, changeable, doesn't have or voice strong opinions, empathy, good morality, prioritizes peace and cohesion among the group, appeasement, self-doubt, lack of confidence, fear, need for approval, dependent, blind trust of others.
- Common Characterizations: Blue Oni, Team Pet, Reluctant Warrior, Sad Clown, Hurting Hero, The Ingenue, The Eeyore, The Ditherer, Classical Anti-Hero
- Most Common Perspective: Grey-and-Gray Morality, Morality Kitchen Sink (although binds self to Black-and-White Morality)
- Most Common Temperament: Mostly eclectic, reflecting their lack of alignment with a particular temperament.
- Most Common Blood Type Association: Type A
- MyersBriggs types in general: Introverts, most IN__ and I_FJ types
A variation on this trope involves there being a group of four with a Cynic and an Optimist who are always as such, but the remaining two members trade among themselves the roles of Realist, Apathetic and Conflicted, or do away with two of the roles, simply having them share the same role (Realist or Conflicted), with one being the main holder and the other in a supporting role or crossed with aspects of the Apathetic.
It is possible to expand the group beyond four or five members using this trope as a template and fitting additional characters into each slot, portraying different parts of the role, four is simply the minimum to qualify for this trope. Beyond that the number of members is unimportant so long as the group involves not a significant amount of Apathetic members, a case that would pretty much defeat the purpose of the trope, which is group conflict. If only a small part of the group (such as just the leader and his lancer) is ever involved in the conflict then it's not this trope, and probably a more job or role-oriented ensemble trope, such as Five-Man Band or Magnificent Seven. When the group uses the full five philosophy roles, it is common for them to form a Three Plus Two group.
Situation: Our group is on an Adventure IN SPACE!, when suddenly they get pelted with space debris, their propulsion system is destroyed and they realize they are on a collision course with a meteor with very little maneuvering capabilities.
- The Cynic proposes they dump the ship and all their belongings and escape in space pods, even if it means leaving that urgently needed medicine they are transporting on board to be destroyed.
- The Optimist finds this idea appalling and insists that either they will fix the ship in time to get out of the way or what maneuvering capability they have will be enough, usually without any evidence to support this idea.
- The Realist goes over the pros and cons of the situation, calming down the argument to the point where actual decision making can happen. Eventually he chooses a side or proposes a third option everyone can live with. This may lead to acting on whatever plan he supports.
- The Apathetic may be a mechanic running about in the background, frantically trying to fix the propulsion systems with little time to think of anything else. Another portrayal is as an enigmatic passenger, watching the proceedings with bemusement, seemingly unaware of the danger. Alternatively they are gathering up their things, hopping in an escape pod without consulting anyone and saying "It's been real guys, see ya." Then again, they might just be insane.
- The Conflicted, should there be one, will be on the verge of tears throughout the ordeal. They may be in the corner quietly worrying, wanting to believe in The Optimist, but unable to stay strong when faced with everything that can go wrong. It might be that rather than distress over the situation, just as bad or worse is the way it has split the members of the group against each other. Conversely, they might just opt to scream "What are we going to do!?" in the background without contributing anything constructive.
- Empowered: Emp (Optimist), Ninjette (Cynic), Thugboy (Realist) and Caged Demonwolf (Apathetic). Sistah Spooky probably counts as a second Cynic.
- Fantastic Four: Reed is the Optimist (science can fix it!), Ben the Cynic (that never works, Stretcho), Sue the Realist (will you boys stop arguing?) and Johnny the Apathetic (...sorry, what did you say?)
- It can also be noted that on the rare occasions when they have nothing to do and no one to fight, they usually slide out of these roles (and become utterly dysfunctional): Johnny is the Optimist (Let's go out and have some fun guys!), Sue is the Cynic (This blows. I hate everything. Why is everyone around me a jackass?), Ben is the Realist (We need to fight someone or we're all going to kill each other, Stretch!), and Reed is the Apathetic (Do Not Disturb. Deep In Thought).
- In Get Fuzzy: Bucky is the Cynic, Satchel is the Optimist and Rob is both the Realist and the Apathetic.
- In Pearls Before Swine: Rat is the Cynic, Pig is the Optimist, Goat is the Realist, Zebra is the Apathetic.
- Watchmen: Nite Owl (Optimist), Silk Spectre (Realist), The Comedian (Cynic), Dr. Manhattan (Apathetic), and Rorschach (Conflicted).
- By the early '80s under Chris Claremont, the X-Men had developed this, with Charles Xavier (Optimist), Magneto (Cynic), Wolverine (Realist), Cyclops (Apathetic and currently retired), and Storm (Conflicted and used as a way to explore each of the other three's philosophies).
- Tintin is the Optimist, who always jumps into adventure and assumes the best in people.
- Captain Haddock is the Cynic, being Tintin's Foil as a Sour Supporter who does not forgive others easily.
- Professor Calculus is the Realist, who is often unaware of what goes on around him, but his intelligence and inventing skills drive the plot of several albums.
- Thomson and Thompson are the Apathetic, as they are well-meaning detectives, but are usually not directly involved in the plot, and tend to cause more problems than they solve.
- In Sky Blade Academy the four main characters and True Companions have this mechanic, with Knight in Sour Armor Atsuya as the Cynic, Genki Guy Kaiba as the Optimist, The Kirk Kyoko as the Realist, and Fish out of Water Iki as the Apathetic. The Conflicted could be all of them.
- In Innocent Hope, we have Raquel as the Cynic, Altair as the Optimist, Yuki as the Realist, or a milder Optimist, and Naki as the Apathetic.
- In Aesir: Cross Wars, we have Azazel (The Cynic, with mild Realist tendencies), Freya (The Optimist), Forseti (The Realist), Uriel (The Apathetic), and Azrael (The Conflicted, temporarily Cynical, later a low-key Optimist).
- The Beatles: John Lennon as the Apathetic, Paul McCartney as the Optimist, George Harrison as the Cynic, and Ringo Starr as the Realist.
- The Doors: Jim Morrison was the Apathetic, Ray Manzarek was the Realist, John Densmore is the Cynic and Robby Kreiger is the Optimist.
- Panic! at the Disco: Ryan Ross as the Cynic, Brendon Urie as the Optimist, Jon Walker as the Realist, and Spencer Smith as the Apathetic.
- Cabin Pressure: Douglas as the Cynic, Arthur as the Optimist, Carolyn as the Realist, Martin as the Conflicted. (In later episodes, complemented by Herc as the Apathetic.)