Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Plato is Funny?

Morreall points out in his introduction to the Plato excerpt, “that amusement is an emotion in which we tend to lose control of ourselves.” Through a discussion between Socrates and Protarchus, Plato outlines how this loss of control, and laughter may coincide with pain and pleasure. Socrates explains his theory to Protarchus, who does not seem to be on the same intellectual level as Socrates. Socrates does all the talking and Protarchus does all the listening, and questioning. “The nature of the ridiculous,” can be described as “Know[ing] not thyself,” according to Socrates. He goes through the ways people can be ignorant of themselves, noting that the greatest ignorance is when people, “imagine themselves superior in virtue, when they are not.” Finally, Socrates argues that realizing your enemies are ignorant is pleasurable humor, but realizing your friends are ignorant is painful humor. Thus, laughing at one’s friends initiates both pleasure and “pain of the soul.”

So, what is so funny about this excerpt? There are two major points. First, Plato points out the root of humor in his day, which also translates to our time as well. We do find laughter in other’s ignorance, and there is an awkward feeling associated with realizing you or your friends are those being made fun of. The second is that Socrates understands that his conversation with Protarchus proves his lack of wisdom, and by continuing he is essentially making fun of him to his face. Through contrasting Protarchus’s lack of understanding to Socrates explanation, Plato verifies his point about humor.

Both Plato and Hobbes find humor, in the ignorance of others. Their ignorance juxtaposed next to another’s or your own intelligence is where they derive humor. On the other hand, Kant finds humor in the situation. In order to laugh, which is good for the health, simply “…put oneself into a certain mental disposition, in which everything is judged quite differently from the ordinary method…” For Kant, laughter is derived by the occurrences of unexpected situations while in the proper mindset. Kierkegaard finds humor in the situation, as well. One can see the influence of the previous authors on the preceding authors, when comparing the readings. Although, humor theories have developed and expanded, and will continue to do so, it is nice to still be able to laugh at material written in 348 B.C.

1 comment:

  1. In the first excerpt I read by Hobbes I immediately was reminded of the illustrations we did in class on Tuesday. Hobbes asserts the “Superiority Theory of Laughter” which we emphasized through a typical “blonde joke”. In this situation, there is always an audience, a target, and a speaker. Some jokes, like blonde jokes, are targeted towards one specific constituent and are said in order to make them inferior.

    Those who are superior are the ones who laugh at the joke, along with the teller of the joke. Hobbes asserts that these types of superiority jokes are a result of human nature. Hobbes says that we are always searching for ways to demote another human being whether by wealth, physicality, hierarchy, or personality. Upstaging others and making them inferior has become a way in which we use humor to get a reaction out of an audience, but also for our own entertainment. Continuing with this superiority model, Hobbes gives us instances during which we do not laugh as those when we or our friends are the target of a joke. Humor is thus used to validate our own inherent desires for superiority and while funny to a select audience, Hobbes indeed brings us to a startling conclusion and warns us of the dangers of humor.
    These dangers are exemplified by Plato who associates laughter with amusement with irrational laughter with violence and a violent reaction. When we further examine Plato, he seems to allude to the dangers of laughter because of its associations to both pleasure and pain. Plato further explains the disparities between those who are weak and those who are strong as people who are unable or able to retaliate when tormented by another. Plato knows that laughter is form of ignorance and is founded in malice and this seems to be what Hobbes is alluding to as well.

    Now Kant and Kierkegaard are slightly less involved with the negatives of humor and laughter and we can bestow their theories to our discussions of Tales of the Tikongs. Keirkegaard mainly talks about humor as an illustration of the concept of “contradiction”. Where things in and of themselves might not be humorous, there is a humor in their contradiction. In Tales of the Tikongs we discussed the themes of tradition, religion, and politics extensively in class. And while we might not directly think that the book is funny because it implies something extremely important, we can nevertheless be humored by the extremities of the culture or the ridiculousness of the characters. Kierkegaard claims that these contradictions are not funny in themselves but are evoke laughter for several different reasons. And Kant might say that Tales of the Tikongs allows us to reap the healthy feelings that result from our bemusement or our laughter of the stories told.