Rising Above the Risible: Laughter in Plato
Laughter is a neglected topic in Plato studies. And yet laughter proves to be a constant and recurring feature, appearing in various forms throughout the majority of Plato’s works. While efforts have certainly been made to rectify this lack of attention, they stop short of delineating a Platonic position on laughter. This thesis therefore attempts to do so. Through close readings of select dialogues from Plato’s early, middle, and late periods, this thesis proposes that such a position does emerge. Beginning with the late period dialogues Philebus and Laws, where laughter receives its most systematic treatment, the reader encounters a focus on what it means to be the subject of laughter, i.e. the one who laughs or views the comic spectacle. In these dialogues it is possible to discern a mature position which identifies two distinct forms of laughter, appropriate and inappropriate, themselves reflective of the common Platonic division of knowledge and ignorance. With these late period dialogues in hand, this thesis then reverts back to Plato’s early and middle period works, where his position on laughter is much more embryonic and evolving. Whereas the late dialogues focus on the subject, the early are much more concerned with being or becoming the object of laughter. Indeed, in the Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito Plato conveys this dramatically through the trial, condemnation, and philosophical method of Socrates. As one moves into the middle period, Plato’s most famous dialogue, the Republic, carries over much of the early period worries, while at the same time anticipating those of the late. At every step of the way, this thesis argues that, throughout Plato’s dialogues, laughter is not simply a side issue or concern, it is in fact philosophically relevant.
Advisor: McConnell, Sean
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Classics
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: New Zealand; laughter; Plato
Research Type: Thesis