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Four-Philosophy Ensemble

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"The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."

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:

Occasionally the group will be joined by a fifth, called The Conflicted, or The Conflicted will replace The Apathetic.

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.

     Example of this Trope in Action 

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 they choose a side or propose a third option everyone can live with. This may lead to acting on whatever plan they 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.

Compare Cast Calculus, Morality Kitchen Sink, Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, Four-Temperament Ensemble, Three Plus Two, Five-Man Band.

Example subpages:

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    Card Games 

  • 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:
    • 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.
  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Raph is Cynical (fatalist, prefers fighting to talking), Mikey is the Optimist (assumes the best in people, wants to have fun above all), Leo is the Realist (as a leader, needs to create plans and mediate conflicts), and Donnie is Apathetic (frequently apart to research and develop his gadgets).

    Fan Works 

  • 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.
  • Gorillaz: Murdoc is the Cynic, Noodle is the Optimist, 2D is the Realist and Russel is the Apathetic.
  • The Kinks: Ray Davies as the Cynic, Dave Davies as the Optimist, Pete Quaife as the Realist and Mick Avory as the Apathetic.
  • The Ramones: Johnny was the Cynic, Dee Dee was the Optimist, Joey was the Apathetic and Marky was the Realist.
  • 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.
  • Queen: Freddie Mercury as the Cynic, Roger Taylor as the Optimist, Brian May as the Realist and John Deacon as the Apathetic.
  • The Who: Roger Daltrey as the Optimist, Pete Townsend as the Cynic, John Entwistle as the Realist and Keith Moon 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.)