Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor develops an inclusive theory that integrates psychological, aesthetic, and ethical issues relating to humor Offers an enlightening and accessible foray into the serious business of humor Reveals how standard theories of humor fail to explain its true nature and actually support traditional prejudices against humor as being antisocial, irrational, and foolish Argues that humor’s benefits overlap significantly with those of philosophy Includes a foreword by Robert Mankoff, Cartoon Editor of The New Yorker.
This book assesses the adequacy of the traditional theories of laughter and humor, suggests revised theories, and explores such areas as the aesthetics and ethics of humor, and the relation of amusement to other mental states. Theories of laughter and humor originated in ancient times with the view that laughter is an expression of feelings of superiority over another person. This superiority theory was held by Plato, Aristotle, and Hobbes. Another aspect of laughter, noted by Aristotle and Cicero and neglected (...) until Kant and Schopenhauer developed it into the incongruity theory, is that laughter is often a reaction to the perception of some incongruity. According to the third and latest traditional theory, the relief theory of Herbert Spencer and Freud, laughter is the venting of superfluous nervous energy. Historical examples of all these theories are presented along with hybrid theories such as those of Descartes and Bergson. The book also features traditional explorations of the place of humor in aesthetics, drama, and literature. This is the first work in the last fifty years to include the classic sources in the philosophy of humor and the first to present theories by contemporary philosophers. (shrink)
In most discussions of civil disobedience, certain characteristics are offered as essential to an act of justifiable civil disobedience, or sometimes to any act of civil disobedience. Among these one of the most frequently mentioned is nonviolence. Some thinkers, like Bedau and Wasserstrom, require an act to be nonviolent before they will even count it as an act of civil disobedience; the very concept for them includes the notion of nonviolence. Others, like Stuart Brown, Rex Martin and Michael Bayles, admit (...) the possibility of a violent act of civil disobedience; but hold that, though nonviolent civil disobedience is justifiable, violent civil disobedience is not justifiable. (shrink)
This article begins by examining the bad reputation humor traditionally had in philosophy and education. Two of the main charges against humor—that it is hostile and irresponsible—are linked to the Superiority Theory. That theory is critiqued and two other theories of laughter are presented—the Relief Theory and the Incongruity Theory. In the Relief Theory, laughter is a release of pent-up nervous energy. In the Incongruity Theory, humor is the enjoyment of something that violates ordinary mental patterns and expectations. The development (...) of the Incongruity Theory is traced in thinkers like Aristotle, Kant, Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard, and refinements are suggested to the theory. The Incongruity Theory, it is argued, helps us to appreciate the affinity between philosophy and humor, especially the genre known as stand-up comedy. The article concludes by using Robert Nozick’s analysis of wisdom to show how dramatic comedy embodies practical lessons for living well. (shrink)
This article begins by reviewing the overwhelmingly negative assessment of laughter and humor in Western philosophy and in Christianity, arguing that that evaluation arises from a misclassification of amusement as a malicious emotion. It then sketches a play theory of humor in which humor is an activity pursued for pleasure which allows participants to violate linguistic and social norms, especially rules about sincerity. Once we understand humor as a kind of play, familiar ethical objections to jokes based on gender and (...) race are seen to be mistaken, and a new approach to the negative ethics of humor becomes possible. What is more, this play theory also explains how humor is morally praiseworthy in many situations. (shrink)
I examine three main objections to humor in western thought--That humor is hostile, That it is irrational, And that it is irresponsible. None of these, I show, Is a valid general objection to humor. I then explore some of the values of humor overlooked in western thought, Especially the way it gets us to see things in new ways and liberates us from practical concern. I contrast the western rejection of humor with the embracing of humor in zen, Showing the (...) connection between the nonattachment emphasized in zen and the "distancing" in humor. (shrink)
This chapter contains sections titled: Humor as Aesthetic Experience Humor and Other Ways of Enjoying Cognitive Shifts: The Funny, Tragic, Grotesque, Macabre, Horrible, Bizarre, and Fantastic Tragedy vs. Comedy: Is Heavy Better than Light? Enough with the Jokes: Spontaneous vs. Prepared Humor.
This article reflects on the oddness of humor and laughter as human behaviors. It argues against classifying humorous amusement as an emotion by contrasting amusement with standard emotions. It then examines amusement as a kind of pleasure, specifically, the enjoyment of psychological shifts. It argues that humor evolved from mock-aggressive play in pre-human apes, with laughter serving as a play signal. Understanding humor as play not only helps explain laughter but also clarifies issues in the ethics of humor, such as (...) the wrongness of racist and sexist jokes, and the question of whether a sense of humor is a virtue. (shrink)
Tragedy has traditionally been ranked higher than comedy, and critics often valorize the ‘tragic vision of life’. Using twenty contrasts between tragedy and comedy, I argue that there is a ‘comic vision of life’ which is superior to the tragic vision, especially in the post-heroic era in which we live.
This chapter contains sections titled: Humnor, Anarchy, and Aggression The Superiority Theory: Humor as Anti‐social The Incongruity Theory: Humor as Irrational The Relief Theory: Humor as a Pressure Valve The Minority Opinion of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas: Humor as Playful Relaxation The Relaxation Theory of Robert Latta.
This chapter contains sections titled: Eight Traditional Moral Objections The Shortcomings in the Contemporary Ethics of Humor A More Comprehensive Approach: The Ethics of Disengagement First Harmful Effect: Irresponsibility Second Harmful Effect: Blocking Compassion Third Harmful Effect: Promoting Prejudice.