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Four-Philosophy Ensemble

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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 (or the Five-Temperament variant) for double the fun. This is some serious Cast Calculus. Basically the trope is this:

A Four Philosophy Ensemble is composed of...

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

Generally speaking, the temperament correspondence line-ups most likely to be found:

Choleric Cynic Cynic Mel/Chol
Sanguine

Realist

-- or --

Realist

Chol/Sang
Supine

Optimist

Optimist

Sang/Sup
Melancholic

Apathetic

Conflicted

Sup/Mel
  • The correspondence line-ups in cases of five positions:
Choleric Cynic Mel/Chol Cynic Mel/Chol
Phlegmatic

Realist

Chol/Sang

Realist

Phlegmatic
Sanguine

Optimist

-- or -- Sang/Sup

Optimist

Sang/Sup
Melancholic

Apathetic

Phlegmatic

Apathetic

Chol/Sang
Supine

Conflicted

Sup/Mel

Conflicted

Sup/Mel

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 or Conflicted, or do away with two of the roles, simply having them share the same role (Realist who can be 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 bunch 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, Six-Student Clique 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 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 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.


Examples of Four-Philosophy Ensemble include:

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