definitions of irony

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  • 7/30/2019 Definitions of Irony


    From Irony (The New Critical Idiom)by C. Colebrook (2003):

    Theironic man, in opposition to the boaster, understates his worth. LeoStrauss
  • 7/30/2019 Definitions of Irony



  • 7/30/2019 Definitions of Irony


    Irony (Merriam Websters): Etymology: Latin ironia, from GreekeirOnia, fromeirOn dissembler 1: a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from anotherassumed in order to make the other's false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning

    -- called also Socratic irony

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    Irony: expression of something which is contrary to the intended meaning; thewords say one thing but mean another.

    *Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;And Brutus is an honourable man. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar


    To be ironic: (eirneuesthai) is to dissemble, to say less than one thinks, topresent oneself as less than one is. The opposite of irony is boastfulness,claiming to be more than one is. From Four Texts on Socrates trans. byThomas G. West

    Irony: [The philosopher] relates to all the others ironically; i.e. with sympathyand a playful distance From Allan Blooms Closing of the American Mind

    Soren Kierkegaards 1941 doctoral dissertation [like all things Kierkegaardwrites, this thought is so sad! PN]: The Concept of Irony: With Constant

    Reference to Socrates: Kierkegaard views Socrates as one who strives for theideal or infinite, but never arrives there. Socrates irony is the expression of thisnegativity.

    1755 definition ofIrony from Samuel Johnsons famous dictionary:Irony: A mode of speech in which the meaning is contrary to the words.

    Definition ofIrony from a modern dictionary:Irony: An incongruity between what might be expected and what actuallyoccurs.

    Accismus: a form ofIrony in which a person feigns indifference to or pretendsto refuse something he or she desires. The fox's dismissal of the grapes inAesop's fable of the fox and the grapes is an example of accismus. A classicexample is that of Caesar's initial refusal to accept the crown, a circumstancereported by one of the conspirators in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Theword is from the Greek akkisms, prudery, and is a derivative ofakkzesthai, tofeign ignorance. From an Encyclopdia Britannica Online article

    From Leo Strausss The City and Man, Ch. II On Platos Republic:

    Irony: One of Socrates peculiarities [is that] he was a master of irony.[Strauss next brings up the question of whether Plato and Socrates have ateaching:] Very much, not to say everything, seems to depend on whatSocratic irony is. Irony is a kind of dissimulation, or of untruthfulness. Aristotletherefore treats the habit of irony primarily as a vice. Yet irony is thedissembling, not of evil actions or of vices, but rather of good actions or ofvirtues: the ironic man, in opposition to the boaster, understates his worth. Ifirony is a vice, it is a graceful vice. Properly used, it is not a vice at all: themagnanimous man the man who regards himself as worthy of great things

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    while in fact being worthy of them is truthful and frank because he is in thehabit of looking down and yet he is ironical in his intercourse with the many. 1

    Irony is then the noble dissimulation of ones worth, of ones superiority. We maysay, it is the humanity peculiar to the superior man: he spares the feelings of hisinferiors by not displaying his superiority. The highest form of superiority issuperiority in wisdom. Irony in the highest sense will then be thedissimulation of ones wisdom, i.e. the dissimulation of ones wise

    thoughts [Jim adds in his marginal notes here, A form of humility]. This cantake two forms: either expressing on a wise subject such thoughts (e.g.generally accepted thoughts) as are less wise than ones own thoughts or[and the following is so Socrates! PN] refraining from expressing anythoughts regarding a wise subject on the ground that one does not haveknowledge regarding it and therefore can only raise questions but cannotgive any answers. If irony is essentially related to the fact that there is a naturalorder of rank among men, it follows that irony consists in speaking differentlyto different kinds of people.2

    We may conclude that the Platonic dialogue says different things to different

    people not accidentally, as every writing does, but that it is so contrived as tosay different things to different people, or that it is radically ironical. ThePlatonic dialogue, if properly read, reveals itself to possess the flexibility oradaptability of oral communication.

    What it means to read a good writing properly is intimated by Socrates in thePhaedrus when he describes the character of a good writing. A writing is good ifit complies with logographic necessity, with the necessity which ought to governthe writing of speeches: every part of the written speech much be necessary tothe whole; the place where each part occurs is the place where it is necessarythat it should occur; in a word, the good writing must resemble the healthy

    animal which can do its proper work well.


    The proper work of a writing is totalk to some readers and to be silent to others. But does not every writingadmittedly talk to all readers?

    Since Platos Socrates does not solve this difficulty for us, let us have recourse toXenophons Socrates. According to Xenophon, Socrates art of conversationwas twofold. When someone contradicted him on any point, he went back to theassumption underlying the whole dispute by raising the question what is ...regarding the subject matter of the dispute and by answering it step by step; inthis way the truth became manifest to the very contradictors.

    But when he discussed a subject on his own initiative, i.e. when he talked topeople who merely listened, he proceeded through generally accepted opinionsand thus produced agreement to an extraordinary degree. This latter kind of theart of conversation which leads to agreement, as distinguished from evident truth,is the art which Homer ascribed to the wily Odysseus by calling him a safespeaker.

    It may seem strange that Socrates treated the contradictors better than the docilepeople. The strangeness is removed by another report of Xenophon. Socrates,


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    we are told, did not approach all men in the same manner. He approacheddifferently the men possessing good natures by whom he was naturally attractedon the one hand, the various types of men lacking good natures on the other.

    The men possessing good natures are the gifted ones: those who are quick tolearn, have a good memory and are desirous for all worthwhile subjects oflearning.

    It would not be strange if Socrates had tried to lead those who are able to thinktoward the truth and to lead the others toward agreement in salutary opinions orto confirm them in such opinions. Xenophons Socrates engaged in his mostblissful work only with his friends or rather his good friends. For, as PlatosSocrates says, it is safe to say the truth among sensible friends.

    1 Aristotle, Eth. Nic. 1108a19-22; 1124b29-31; 1127a20-26, b22-31.2 Plato, Rivals, 133d8-e1; cf. 134c1-6.3 Phaedrus, 275d4-276a7 and 264b7-c5.

    Irony: Aristotles very definition of irony, according to which the superiordisclaim the estimable qualities they in fact possess, presupposes a difference incapacity and rank among human beings. (Ethics 1108a22; 1124b30-31;1127b22-32 From p. 156 of the American Political Science Review, Vol.89, No. 1, March 1995 (Robert C. Bartlett of Emory Universitys response toMary Nichols criticism of Bartletts 1994 APSR article)


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