Everyone likes to laugh, but it turns out that some philosophers didn’t think comedy was good for you.
For centuries, many philosophers took the view that a lot of laughter is at someone else’s expense and considered it a form of passion. They even thought comedy should be censored and that certain important people should never laugh.
However, some philosophers disagreed with these opinions and began to consider humor a positive thing. Aristotle, for example, argued that laughter is a good thing because it helps us enjoy ourselves and provides psychological rest.
The 17th century painter Hendrick ter Brugghen depicts Democritus as a laughing philosopher in this image, and it captures a sense of the joyous side to this ancient figure.
Known in antiquity as the ‘laughing philosopher’ for his emphasis on cheerfulness, Democritus was one of the two founders of the atomic theory of the universe, which held that everything is made of tiny, indivisible particles called atoms.
Democritus’s atomist theory of the universe was an attempt to explain the apparent order and regularity of nature without the use of teleology or purpose. It was also an effort to make sense of human nature without relying on supernatural forces.
While Democritus’s atomist theory might be hard to swallow at first glance, he was clearly a wise man who sought to understand the world around him. And he lived his life with the same goal as every other man: to be happy.
He avoided overeating, alcoholism, and promiscuity because these were things he felt led him astray from his happiness goals. He also avoided certain habits that he felt were immoral, like gambling and prostitution.
While it is possible that some of Democritus’s ‘laughing’ was a mocking mockery of the follies that occurred in his society, the majority of his ‘laughing’ seems to have been a form of sharpness and detachment. In fact, his remaining fragments are surprisingly optimistic in their depiction of human nature and the way we should live our lives.