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date: 16 September 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores eighteenth-century discussion of the nature, power, import, and uses of ridicule. While many assented to the role of ridicule in flagging defects of character and social or moral practice, the use of ridicule in relation to the establishment of truth was more controversial. The proposition that ridicule could serve as a ‘test of truth’ arose at the beginning of the century in comments by the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury about ‘enthusiasm’. Once raised, the topic sparked discussion for decades. Initially, the attack on Shaftesbury arose in the context of the politics of religion, in which churchmen emphasized the connection between ridicule and irreligion. As partisan and religious politics calmed in the second half of the century, ridicule came to be situated in enlightened discussion of human communicative capacities and the parameters of taste.

Keywords: ridicule, freethinking, religion, politeness, taste, Enlightenment, controversy, enthusiasm

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