Philosopher Face-Off: Laughter

Saint Augustine:

“Take joking and laughing. Anyone judging human nature most rightly holds that these features are indeed human, but the least important part of a human being.” [1]

vs. Walter Benjamin:

“It may be noted, incidentally, that there is no better trigger for thinking than laughter. In particular, convulsion of the diaphragm usually provides better opportunities for thought than convulsion of the soul.” [2]


Saint Augustine thinks that reason is the highest power that humans possess and thus the most important, but that laughter and joking are the least important. Twentieth-century thinker Benjamin, on the other hand, locates laughter as a trigger for thinking. Laughter, on Benjamin’s view, is thus deeply tied to human reason. Oh, you curmudgeon, Augustine.


[1] Saint Augustine, On the Free Choice of the Will, 1.18.63

[2] Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer”


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