All Academic, Inc. Research Logo

Info/CitationFAQResearchAll Academic Inc.
Document

Laughter as/at the Rhetoric of Democracy
Unformatted Document Text:  24 encounters with the various ‘wise’ men of Athens – be they politicians, poets, or craftsman – Socrates discovers that all of these men, even those who do possess some sort of wisdom, suffer from self-ignorance. In the case of the politicians, Socrates declines to name even a single thing about which they are wise. The poets, who do say many wise things, are nevertheless unable to provide an account of the many fine things they say. Finally, the craftsmen not only know many fine things, they are presumably able, by way of Socrates’ omission, to explain these pieces of knowledge as well. Yet they, like the poets, are still self-ignorant, in the sense that they are ignorant with respect to the limits of their individual knowledge. Both the poets and the craftsmen fall victim to the false assumption that their particular areas of knowledge provide them with knowledge of many other important pursuits. It is in this sense that they are self-ignorant, and hence Socrates’ quest demonstrates that his superiority with respect to wisdom consists precisely in his knowledge of his ignorance, and hence, in his apparent lack of self-ignorance. Thus, by revealing his interlocutors to be self-ignorant, there is a sense, based on the definition of laughter in the Philebus, in which Socrates is also revealing them to be laughable. Such laughter, unlike that of the comic poets Socrates criticizes in the Republic, is not based on the opinions of the many; rather, it is based on a demonstration, through the method of the elenchus, that Socrates’ interlocutors are self-ignorant with respect to wisdom. Such an understanding of the Socratic method, as not only inducing aporia through refutation, but also of inducing such aporia by showing one’s interlocutors to be laughable, provides new insight into the animus that Socrates invokes in his philosophical quest to prove the verity of the Oracle’s utterance concerning his wisdom. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the Socratic method does invoke such ire, nor that the young men of Athens take such pleasure in seeing it exercised on their elders. V. Conclusion In the comic poetry of Aristophanes and the philosophical dialogues of Plato, we are confronted with two very different forms of laughter. Aristophanic laughter is a democratic form of laughter; it is laughter that is both addressed to the dêmos and for the dêmos. While it is a form of laughter that often questions the ability of the dêmos to make good decisions, it is nonetheless structured in such a way that it is a form of self-laughter. In this sense, it constitutes a form of communal self-critique, one that necessarily places great faith in the ability of the dêmos to become better observers of their actions in the political sphere. Plato, of course, doubts the critical power of such communal, democratic laughter. For Socrates in the Republic, such laughter merely reinforces and re-inscribes the unreflective opinions and dogmas of the dêmos without questioning the validity of these assumptions and without reflecting on the truth of these opinions. At the same time, Plato recognizes the potential of laughter as a critical force when it is directed, by philosophers, at the ignorant ideas of the many. In this sense, Platonic laughter is a form of anti-democratic discourse, one that seeks to discredit both the ideology of democracy and the processes of democratic decision-making. Looking to Aristophanes and Plato, then, allows us to see more clearly what is at stake when we talk about laughter as a form of discourse in democratic societies. It can help us to see both laughter’s critical power and its potential shortcomings. Plato’s critique both confirms Habermas’ suspicion of the perlocutionary effects of comic

Authors: Lombardini, John.
first   previous   Page 24 of 27   next   last



background image
24
encounters with the various ‘wise’ men of Athens – be they politicians, poets, or craftsman – Socrates discovers that
all of these men, even those who do possess some sort of wisdom, suffer from self-ignorance. In the case of the
politicians, Socrates declines to name even a single thing about which they are wise. The poets, who do say many
wise things, are nevertheless unable to provide an account of the many fine things they say. Finally, the craftsmen
not only know many fine things, they are presumably able, by way of Socrates’ omission, to explain these pieces of
knowledge as well. Yet they, like the poets, are still self-ignorant, in the sense that they are ignorant with respect to
the limits of their individual knowledge. Both the poets and the craftsmen fall victim to the false assumption that
their particular areas of knowledge provide them with knowledge of many other important pursuits. It is in this
sense that they are self-ignorant, and hence Socrates’ quest demonstrates that his superiority with respect to wisdom
consists precisely in his knowledge of his ignorance, and hence, in his apparent lack of self-ignorance.
Thus, by revealing his interlocutors to be self-ignorant, there is a sense, based on the definition of laughter
in the Philebus, in which Socrates is also revealing them to be laughable. Such laughter, unlike that of the comic
poets Socrates criticizes in the Republic, is not based on the opinions of the many; rather, it is based on a
demonstration, through the method of the elenchus, that Socrates’ interlocutors are self-ignorant with respect to
wisdom. Such an understanding of the Socratic method, as not only inducing aporia through refutation, but also of
inducing such aporia by showing one’s interlocutors to be laughable, provides new insight into the animus that
Socrates invokes in his philosophical quest to prove the verity of the Oracle’s utterance concerning his wisdom. It is
perhaps unsurprising, then, that the Socratic method does invoke such ire, nor that the young men of Athens take
such pleasure in seeing it exercised on their elders.
V.
Conclusion
In the comic poetry of Aristophanes and the philosophical dialogues of Plato, we are confronted with two
very different forms of laughter. Aristophanic laughter is a democratic form of laughter; it is laughter that is both
addressed to the dêmos and for the dêmos. While it is a form of laughter that often questions the ability of the dêmos
to make good decisions, it is nonetheless structured in such a way that it is a form of self-laughter. In this sense, it
constitutes a form of communal self-critique, one that necessarily places great faith in the ability of the dêmos to
become better observers of their actions in the political sphere.
Plato, of course, doubts the critical power of such communal, democratic laughter. For Socrates in the
Republic, such laughter merely reinforces and re-inscribes the unreflective opinions and dogmas of the dêmos
without questioning the validity of these assumptions and without reflecting on the truth of these opinions. At the
same time, Plato recognizes the potential of laughter as a critical force when it is directed, by philosophers, at the
ignorant ideas of the many. In this sense, Platonic laughter is a form of anti-democratic discourse, one that seeks to
discredit both the ideology of democracy and the processes of democratic decision-making.
Looking to Aristophanes and Plato, then, allows us to see more clearly what is at stake when we talk about
laughter as a form of discourse in democratic societies. It can help us to see both laughter’s critical power and its
potential shortcomings. Plato’s critique both confirms Habermas’ suspicion of the perlocutionary effects of comic


Convention
All Academic Convention is the premier solution for your association's abstract management solutions needs.
Submission - Custom fields, multiple submission types, tracks, audio visual, multiple upload formats, automatic conversion to pdf.
Review - Peer Review, Bulk reviewer assignment, bulk emails, ranking, z-score statistics, and multiple worksheets!
Reports - Many standard and custom reports generated while you wait. Print programs with participant indexes, event grids, and more!
Scheduling - Flexible and convenient grid scheduling within rooms and buildings. Conflict checking and advanced filtering.
Communication - Bulk email tools to help your administrators send reminders and responses. Use form letters, a message center, and much more!
Management - Search tools, duplicate people management, editing tools, submission transfers, many tools to manage a variety of conference management headaches!
Click here for more information.

first   previous   Page 24 of 27   next   last

©2012 All Academic, Inc.