Platonic Theory of Humor

Greek philosopher Plato is the first scholar known to have taken a theoretical interest in humor. However, this interest was motivated not by a concern with humor as such but with its place in intellectual and public life. This motivation must be kept in mind to better understand Plato’s views on humor itself.

Plato was critical of humor in the performing arts, arguing that it encouraged unfounded attitudes in audiences (The Republic, Book 10). For example, Plato criticized the comic playwright Aristophanes (Apology, 18d, 19c) for satirizing Plato’s mentor, Socrates. In Plato’s view, this caricature of Socrates misinformed the attitudes of Athenians toward the real man. This caricature contributed to Socrates’s later conviction on trumped-up charges of impiety, for which Socrates was then executed.

In general, Plato ...

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