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Civic Laughter Aristotle and the Political Virtue of Humor

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Abstract

While the loss of the second book of the Poetics has deprived us of Aristotle’s most extensive account of laughter and comedy, his discussion of eutrapelia (wittiness) as a virtue in his ethical works and in the Rhetoric points toward the importance of humor for his ethical and political thought. This article offers a reconstruction of Aristotle’s account of wittiness and attempts to explain how the virtue of wittiness would animate the everyday interactions of ordinary citizens. Placing Aristotle’s account of wittiness in dialogue with recent work within the ethical turn in contemporary political theory can help articulate what a late-modern ethos of democratic laughter might look like.

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... Aristotle's conception of wittiness as a virtue indicates an appreciation of how both "everyday talk" between citizens shapes the ways in which they act toward and deliberate with each other, but also how their everyday laughter and joking function in this way." (Lombardini, 2013(Lombardini, , p. 212) 29 E.N., 1161a Dans le beau passage qui montre que le sage lui-même, même s'il n'en a pas à proprement parler besoin, redouble et intensifie par la conscience qu'il a de l'existence des amis le plaisir qu'il ressent à la sienne propre, Aristote montre que, pour les hommes, le συζÁυ, le vivre-ensemble, n'est pas seulement un συναισθάνεσθαι, mot à mot un consensus, un sentir-ensemble, mais un échange de paroles et de pensée (κοινωνε‹ν λόγων καὶ διανοίας) [E.N., IX, 9, 1170 v 10-12;II, 7, 1108 a 11;IV, 12, 1126b 11;IV, 14, 118b5]. C'est là qui différencie les hommes des bestiaux, dont le vivre-ensemble consiste à paître ensemble dans le même pré. ...
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... 23-27). Most notably, some forms of rhetorics-especially "bridg ing" gestures, but even irony (Basu, 1999;Lombardini, 2013), invective (Shiffman, 2002) or shaming (Tarnopolsky, 2007)-often serve an important deliberative goal of inducing a preference change (Dryzek, 2010b). Simone Chambers (2009) even goes as far as to distinguish "good", deliberative rhetorics from the "bad", plebiscitary kind. ...
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Peuple imparfait Ni l’idealisation de l’unanimite ni le refus de la rhetorique n’appartiennent a la tradition liberale par hasard. Tous deux sont historiquement lies a la conjoncture de la guerre civile anglaise et intellectuellement a la pensee de Hobbes, que personne n’a songe a qualifier d’arbitraire. Toutefois, si cette idealisation et ce refus convergent dans l’analyse politique de Hobbes, ce n’est pas sous la forme d’une argumentation, mais d’une metaphore – de premiere importance. Le v...
Aristophanic Comedy and the Challenge of Democratic Citizen-ship The above list is not exhaustive, and these categories are certainly more fluid than this brief sketch suggests. Other noteworthy work includes Wilson Carey McWilliams
  • Peter Euben
  • Corrupting Youth
Peter Euben, Corrupting Youth: Political Education, Democratic Culture, and Political Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), ch. 5, and Platonic Noise (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), ch. 4; and John Zumbrunnen, Aristophanic Comedy and the Challenge of Democratic Citizen-ship (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2012). The above list is not exhaustive, and these categories are certainly more fluid than this brief sketch suggests. Other noteworthy work includes Wilson Carey McWilliams, " Poetry, Politics, and the Comic Spirit, " PS: Political Science and Politics 28, no. 2 (1995), pp. 197–200, Ralph Lerner, Playing the Fool: Subversive Laughter in at UMKC Libraries on March 31, 2015 ptx.sagepub.com Downloaded from
In his latest work, Connolly also mentions " a bad joke, bubbling up from nowhere
  • Connolly
  • Pluralism
Connolly, Pluralism, p. 124. In his latest work, Connolly also mentions " a bad joke, bubbling up from nowhere. " See William Connolly, A World of Becoming (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), p. 9.
= Poetics; Pol. = Politics; Prob. = Problems; Rhet. = Rhetoric. Translations from the Greek are my own
  • Poet
Poet. = Poetics; Pol. = Politics; Prob. = Problems; Rhet. = Rhetoric. Translations from the Greek are my own, unless otherwise noted.
Talking to Strangers
  • Allen
Allen, Talking to Strangers, p. 121.
On this conception of friendship in classical Greece more generally, see David Konstan Reciprocity and Friendship 35. I borrow the phrase " everyday talk Everday Talk in the Deliberative System
  • Ibid
Ibid., p. 121. On this conception of friendship in classical Greece more generally, see David Konstan, " Reciprocity and Friendship, " in Reciprocity in Ancient Greece (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 300. 35. I borrow the phrase " everyday talk " from Jane Mansbridge. See Jane Mansbridge, " Everday Talk in the Deliberative System, " in Deliberative Politics: Essays on Democracy and Disagreement, ed. Stephen Macedo (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 211–39.
Hybris: A Study of the Values of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greece As Fisher exhaustively demonstrates, this civic understanding of hubris is consistent with the definition Aristotle offers at Rhet
  • Nick Fisher
Nick Fisher, Hybris: A Study of the Values of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greece (Warminster, UK: Aris & Philips, 1992), p. 148. As Fisher exhaustively demonstrates, this civic understanding of hubris is consistent with the definition Aristotle offers at Rhet. 1378b23–25.
Against Meidias); for the latter, see Isocrates
  • For
  • Former
For the former, see Demosthenes, Against Meidias, 180, in Demosthenes, Speeches: 20–22, trans. Edward M. Harris (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2008); for the latter, see Isocrates, Against Lochites 4, in Isocrates, Speeches I, trans. David C. Mirhady and Yun Lee Too (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2000).
This is, of course, the position advocated for the guardians of Kallipolis in Plato's Republic (388e4–6), and one that enjoyed long favor from the Renaissance through to the nineteeenth century. For the latter tradition, see Skinner Hobbes and the Classical Theory of Laughter
  • Fisher
Fisher, Hybris, p. 12. 51. This is, of course, the position advocated for the guardians of Kallipolis in Plato's Republic (388e4–6), and one that enjoyed long favor from the Renaissance through to the nineteeenth century. For the latter tradition, see Skinner, " Hobbes and the Classical Theory of Laughter, " pp. 142–76;
A Comprehensive Theory of Humor
  • John Morreall
John Morreall, Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Theory of Humor (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), ch. 1; and Anca Parvulescu, Laughter: Notes on a Passion (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010), ch. 1.
p. 341; and Julia Annas, The Morality of Happiness
  • John Cooper
John Cooper, " Friendship and the Good in Aristotle, " in Reason and Emotion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), p. 341; and Julia Annas, The Morality of Happiness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 251–52.
Friendship and the Good
  • Cooper
Cooper, " Friendship and the Good, " p. 342.
Une analyse du Rire chez Aristote et Théophraste
  • William W Fortenbaugh
William W. Fortenbaugh, " Une analyse du Rire chez Aristote et Théophraste, " in Le Rire des Grecs, ed. Marie-Laurence Desclos (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2000), p. 351.
Democracy of Distinction
  • Frank
Frank, Democracy of Distinction, p. 159.
Sustaining Affirmation: The Strengths of Weak Ontology in Political Theory It is worth noting that White, like Connolly, emphasizes the affinities between tradi-tional theories of ethical cultivation and weak ontologies. See Ibid
  • K Stephen
  • White
Stephen K. White, Sustaining Affirmation: The Strengths of Weak Ontology in Political Theory (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 8. It is worth noting that White, like Connolly, emphasizes the affinities between tradi-tional theories of ethical cultivation and weak ontologies. See Ibid., p. 11.