Volume 24, Issue 2, Spring 2020
Aristotle on Wittiness
Verbally Abusing One’s Friends in the Right Way
Aristotle claims, in his Nicomachean Ethics, that in addition to being, for example, just and courageous, and temperate, the virtuous person will also be witty. Very little sustained attention, however, has been devoted to explicating what Aristotle means when he claims that virtuous persons are witty or to justifying the plausibility of the claim that wittiness is a virtue. It becomes especially difficult to see why Aristotle thinks that being witty is a virtue once it becomes clear that Aristotle’s witty person engages in what he calls ‘educated insolence’. Insolence, for Aristotle, is a form of slighting which, as he explains in the Rhetoric, generally causes the person slighted to experience shame and anger. In this paper, I attempt to bring some clarity to Aristotle’s claim that being witty is a virtue by examining why Aristotle thinks that the object of a witty person’s raillery will find this joking pleasant.