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Philosophy of Humor

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Heather-Mara DeMocker

on 23 May 2014

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Transcript of Philosophy of Humor

Philosophy of Humor
Heather DeMocker
Theories of Humor
Incongruity Theory
and Monty Python
General Picture
Fish Slapping Dance
Monty Python's Fish Slapping Dance is an example of the Incongruity Theory.
We laugh because it premise of two grown men hitting each other with fish is illogical and absurd.
Michael Palin considers the fish-slapping dance to be the proudest moment of his career. He has said, it was just very silly,
they thought it was funny, and he enjoyed doing it.
Dictionary Definition:
The quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech.
Considered a highly-valued quality in friends, family members, and significant others.
People gather around those who make them laugh.
Naturally if humor seems like a thing of such importance, philosophers must have dealt with it.
They did...but their thoughts concerning humor have been largely negative.
Humor did not come into it's full meaning of slapstick comedy and silly jokes until the nineteenth century.
And the immediate lowering of dignity.
Sources of Semi-Information
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Sila English Magazine
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Philosophy of Humor
Monty Python archives
Theories of Humor
Superiority Theory
Incongruity Theory
Relief Theory
Superiority Theory
Humor is based on ridicule, wherein we regard the object of amusement as inferior and/or ourselves as superior.
Guiding Questions
What makes humor so appealing?
When is racial or culture based humor okay?
Does humor have a purpose?
A Cold Fall
It's not very wise to go running on ice... but the loss of dignity and lack of wisdom
lead to some pretty amusing results.
Described humor as “an imitation of people who are worse than the average.”
Did not see comedy or amusement as a fundamental aspect of life
Believed jokes were a kind of abuse
Only jokes that "abuse" improper material gained Aristotle's acceptance. (ex. satires)
Proposed by Plato (through Socrates) in his dialog,

Believed laughter led to violent emotions and a loss of bodily control (
Plato passed on this line of thinking to his
student, Aristotle.
Relief Theory
The object of ridicule is often lacking wisdom, worldly goods, or suffers from a quick reduction in dignity.
Thomas Hobbes
Described those who laugh as "greedy of applause from everything they do."
Laughter arises from joy, which arises from personal sense of achievement
Theories and Questions
The three theories each explain some type of humor.
Q1: Why is what we find funny, funny?
Q2: When is racial or culture based humor okay?
Q3: What makes humor appealing?
Relief theory:
Humor helps us release the nervous energy that builds up over the course of our days and our lives. It allows us to relax.
Superiority theory:
The philosophers behind this theory believed it was wrong to laugh at those who are less fortunate. Just because we can mock people with a history of stereotypes, misfortune, or a terribly bureaucratic government, doesn't mean we should. The mishaps of could be funny to some, but tragic to others.
Incongruity theory:
We find things funny because they surprise us and they don't make sense. We can leave reason behind.
My theory:
Laughing and smiling have been scientifically shown to improve mood
Humor often leads to laughter, which makes us feel better
We value comedians because they help us release nervous energy and escape stress
My theory:
Racial and culture based humor can be a touchy subject
The comedy should be at the expense of the comedian
The audience receiving the joke matters (ex. don't tell prison jokes to someone who may have an incarcerated family member)
Just because we can mock a culture doesn't mean we should
"Humor is the immediate reduction of dignity."
On the other hand....
In response to the Superiority theory, philosophers developed another theory focused on intellectual recognition of absurd in congruities.
Francis Hutcheson
Seeing someone in pain puts us in "greater danger of weeping than laughing."
There are a number of situations where our own superiority does not lead us to laugh.
Why do we find what we find funny, funny?
Humor is caused by the presentation of images or ideas that have contrary meanings.
An incongruity is an unusual or absurd juxtaposition of events. These non-sequiturs, irrational and absurd situations cause comedy.
The Absurd
John Morreall
Refers to Superiority Theory as the "Irrationality Objection" to humor.
Doesn't think amusement can lead to loss of bodily control like anger or violence can.
this guy's contemporary
Immanuel Kant
Humor arises "from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing."
Humor derives from more than surprise, but also from abrupt violations of reason and normality.
Effectiveness of a joke depends on the contrast between the elements involved and how well they are fused.
Q2: What about puns?
Incongruity theory:
Puns juxtapose two unrelated things.
My theory:
Agree with incongruity theory.
We often have to do a double take and face palm.
The grand combination of the three theories in ...
Philosopher's Football
a sketch by Monty Python
BUT one theory can't explain every type of humor, so all three theories are correct in their own way.
a look back at our guiding questions...
My theory:
We release nervous energy.
Material should match the definition of one or more theories
puns...the ol' clean one-liners
Closely related to existentialism and nihilism,
the Absurd
was developed by Soren Kierkegaard. The contradictory nature of human minds and the universe cause the absurd to exist.
The Absurd
refers to
The human struggle to seek inherent meaning in life and the inability to really find any.
The "illogically impossible," but the "humanly impossible."
...and its Humor
The juxtaposition of human minds and the universe is the main link to absurd humor.
The epitome of the Incongruity theory is absurdist humor:
founded upon non-sequiturs deliberate violations of normal reason and thought, and irrational situations.
Francis Hutcheson
Amusement derives from intellectual recognition of an incongruity.
Quoted, "the cause of laughter is the bringing together of images which have contrary additional ideas, as well as some resemblance in the principal idea."
On the other hand....
Alexander Bain & George Santayaya
There are a number of absurd situations that don't evoke laughter
We laugh for reasons other than incongruities (ex. laughing in victory or being tickled)
Herbert Spencer, a 19th century philosopher, cites
Bain as his reason for developing our last theory of humor.
Relief Theory.
Humor and laughter are caused by a release of nervous energy or emotional tension.
This theory is grounded physiologically, since emotions may be manifested and shown through body language.
Example: The Holy Grail
This scene demonstrates both the Incongruity and Relief theories. Through the film Arthur remains the most down-to-earth character. The tension building from the quest for the Holy Grail is shattered by the gimmicks of the french taunter.
Herbert Spencer
The body can express and vocalize pain and joy, laughter is the same sort of expression.
Agrees that laughter stems from humiliation of others or absurdities,
BUT all laughter stems from a release of nervousness or emotion.
The release of tension and stress is pleasant, so we feel good.
This theory is different from the other two because it focuses on why we laugh, rather than why we find something amusing.
This is also less philosophically grounded
so we're going to focus on it less than the other two.
The Monty Python archives are on Youtube,
The Philosophy of Humor"
is a paper written by a Wake Forrest professor,
Theories of Humor
is a paper from Morgan State University.
Full transcript