Aristotle On Ridicule

888 Words2 Pages

In book Four, Chapter Eight of the Ethics, Aristotle applies his philosophical ideals to the concept of humor and good company. He establishes categories and kinds of humor or wit, and sets limits for the behavior that a gentleman and a wise man will accept. At one point, however, he makes the admission that it’s hard to define when ridicule is appropriate. Because people react to ridicule in different ways, according to their temperament.
This paper will examine the second paragraph of Book Four, Chapter Eight, to determine what it is about “ridicule” that causes Aristotle to break away from his usual method of analysis to consider other ways of looking at the problem. Specifically, the question of why Aristotle says that propriety in ridicule “eludes definition” will be considered. The problem is that Aristotle defines ridicule in a later part of the same paragraph, in a way that seems not to admit any acceptable forms.
When looking at good and bad company, Aristotle considers it entirely in terms of “entertaining conversation,” such as humor, wit, or ridicule. He argues that “adaptability” in the way we talk to people is desirable, since there is a time and a place for everything. The paragraph begins with indirect definitions of two extremes of humor, the buffoon and the humorless person. A buffoon would rather be a fool and hurt people’s feelings than “fail to raise a laugh”. A man who never cracks a joke is also falling short of the appropriate behavior, which is the gentleman’s ability to give and take gentle humor in a conversation. A “wit” is someone “whose pleasantries do not go too far,” and is always ready with a witty remark or a pleasant joke: to the middle state in dealing with the humorous, particularly characteristic of that is social tact or address, which may be defined as the gift of saying just the right things for a gentleman to say and of getting others to say such things to him.

This seems to be the meaning of “good or bad company,” where a person gives and takes pleasure in conversation with others, according to the situation and the subject.
Aristotle defines ridicule, he says that it is a form of “abuse or slander, and slander in certain circumstances is prohibited by law”. How can there be any propriety in a form of abuse or slander? Aristotle seems to avoid the contradiction, going on to say that the proper gentleman will regulate his own behavior.

Open Document