Humor

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2006)

Abstract

According to the standard analysis, humor theories can be classified into three neatly identifiable groups:incongruity, superiority, and relief theories. Incongruity theory is the leading approach and includes historical figures such as Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, and perhaps has its origins in comments made by Aristotle in the Rhetoric. Primarily focusing on the object of humor, this school sees humor as a response to an incongruity, a term broadly used to include ambiguity, logical impossibility, irrelevance, and inappropriateness. The paradigmatic Superiority theorist is Thomas Hobbes, who said that humor arises from a “sudden glory” felt when we recognize our supremacy over others. Plato and Aristotle are generally considered superiority theorists, who emphasize the aggressive feelings that fuel humor. The third group, Relief theory, is typically associated with Sigmund Freud and Herbert Spencer, who saw humor as fundamentally a way to release or save energy generated by repression. In addition, this article will explore a fourth group of theories of humor: play theory. Play theorists are not so much listing necessary conditions for something’s counting as humor, as they are asking us to look at humor as an extension of animal play.

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Aaron Smuts
Rhode Island College

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Citations of this work

The Ethics of Humor: Can Your Sense of Humor Be Wrong?Aaron Smuts - 2010 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 13 (3):333-347.
Superiority in Humor Theory.Sheila Lintott - 2016 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 74 (4):347-358.
Philosophy of Humor.Joshua Shaw - 2010 - Philosophy Compass 5 (2):112-126.
No Hugging, No Learning: The Limitations of Humour.Cochrane Tom - 2017 - British Journal of Aesthetics 57 (1):51-66.
Does God Have a Sense of Humor?Rik Peels - 2015 - Faith and Philosophy 32 (3):271-292.

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