Ross Carroll: Mere Laughter is no Argument:’ Ridicule in the Scottish Enlightenment

November 1- 4pm – 6191 Helen  C. White
4:00 PM-5:30 PM. 6191 HCW
Co-sponsored by the Center for Early Modern Studies

Ross Carroll: ‘Mere Laughter is no Argument:’ Ridicule in the Scottish Enlightenment

Philosophers in eighteenth-century Scotland took a keen interest in the psychology of laughter. As historians of the Scottish Enlightenment have long known, Francis Hutcheson, James Beattie, George Campbell, and Thomas Reid all sought to undermine Thomas Hobbes’ notorious claim that laughter was an expression of contempt by locating the origin of laughter in incongruity. Less studied, however, is how these philosophers integrated this incongruity thesis of laughter into their ‘science of man,’ using it to account for differences in the quantity and quality of humour across different societies and political regimes. In this lecture I examine the place of laughter in that science of man and also analyse the regulative function that Scottish philosophers assigned to ridicule in a polite commercial society. In spite of their professed aversion to Hobbesian laughter, I argue, Reid and Beattie in particular were adamant that ridicule was key to generating popular contempt for what they consider they considered to be the most pernicious trend in modern philosophy: Hume’s skepticism.

Ross Carroll is Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Political Theory at the University of Exeter. His research interests are mainly in early modern political thought with a particular focus on the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Edmund Burke, David Hume, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury, and Alexis de Tocqueville. Thematically his work mainly deals with issues surrounding the passions, fanaticism, religious toleration, and censorship.  His current book project is entitled Uncivil Mirth: Ridicule in the British Enlightenment