Laughing and Crying

Paper Text – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3971-8
Publication Date
March 2020
Page Count
208 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Laughing and Crying

A Study of the Limits of Human Behavior
Helmuth Plessner; Translated from the German by James Spencer Churchill and Marjorie Grene and with a new foreword by J. M. Bernstein

First published in German in 1940 and widely recognized as a classic of philosophical anthropology, Laughing and Crying is a detailed investigation of these two particularly significant types of expressive behavior, both in themselves and in relation to human nature. Elaborating the philosophical account of human life he developed in Levels of Organic Life and the Human: An Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology, Plessner suggests that laughing and crying are expressions of a crisis brought about in certain situations by the relation of a person to their body.
With a new foreword by J. M. Bernstein that situates the book within the broader framework of Plessner’s philosophical anthropology and his richly suggestive and powerful account of human bodily life, Laughing and Crying is essential reading for anyone interested in the philosophy of the body, emotions, and human behavior.

About the Author

HELMUTH PLESSNER (1892–1985) was a leading figure in the field of philosophical anthropology. He was the author of more than thirteen books, including The Limits of Community: A Critique of Social Radicalism, Levels of Organic Life and the Human: An Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology, and Political Anthropology.
J. M. BERNSTEIN is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. He is the author of Torture and Dignity: An Essay on Moral Injury.


"Plessner’s study is a major work of philosophical anthropology and should be read by anyone who wants to come to grips with what it means to be human. The central idea of this short book is that when we laugh and cry we aren’t acting irrationally; we’re caught up in profound interpretations of our human condition, ones arising from the ambiguity of our being and having bodies."—Evan Thompson, author of Mind in Life, and Waking, Dreaming, Being. 

"It is a familiar fact that only human beings can laugh and cry, but also that they cannot really do so intentionally. We “have to“ laugh or cry, but only beings capable of action know this compulsion.  Helmuth Plessner ingeniously found a way out of this apparent paradox by introducing the idea of a meaningful loss of intentionality. This book develops this idea not in abstract reasoning, but in sensitive analyses of bodily experiences."—Hans Joas, author of The Sacredness of the Person: A New Genealogy of Human Rights.