In this thesis I investigate entertainment from a philosophical point of view. My investigation begins with, and revolves around R.G. Collingwood’s work on “amusement art”, or entertainment, which is contained in his book The Principles of Art (1938). I do not agree with every aspect of Collingwood’s account of entertainment, but my argument follows Collingwood in three main ways. Firstly, I argue that entertainment is not a trivial or insignificant aspect of human cultural activity. On the contrary, it is philosophically interesting and important. Secondly, entertainment may seem a harmless, if perhaps guilty little pleasure, but it is actually a form of serious cultural dysfunction and a cause of social, practical, and individual decay. Thirdly, the most effective way to understand entertainment (philosophically) involves a three way conceptual distinction between art, entertainment, and “craft” or techne. I also think that, although it is important to begin with Collingwood’s philosophy of entertainment, there are ways to move beyond certain weaknesses in his view, and thereby provide a more philosophically satisfying account of entertainment.
As a part of his account of entertainment, Collingwood provides a rather unconventional reading of Plato’s Republic. In essence, Collingwood claims that Plato does not banish ‘art’, or ‘poetry’ from his perfect city. Rather, Plato banishes entertainment. I investigate this reading of the Republic in some detail. I argue that there are several important flaws in Collingwood’s reading, but to a large degree he has a good point. Plato, it seems to me, has a deep concern with the problem of entertainment. I also take Collingwood’s reading a little further by suggesting that Plato’s attempt to understand and censure entertainment actually pervades much of the Republic as a whole. In fact, Plato has a great deal more to add to the philosophy of entertainment than Collingwood realises.
In the later chapters of this thesis I attempt to resolve certain tensions in Collingwood’s account of entertainment, as well as examining certain differences between his account and the account of entertainment I find in Plato’s work. In effect, I think we can develop a better understanding of entertainment by combining the most effective aspects of Collingwood’s view, with the most convincing aspects of Plato’s view. I hope this ‘hybrid’ account of entertainment will explain the three-way conceptual relationship between entertainment, craft (or techne), and art or philosophy more satisfactorily. I also hope to develop a clearer account of the peculiar way entertainment pleases us, as well as making it clear why this sort of pleasure has a whole range of negative consequences.