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Humour in philosophy

Humour in philosophy
  • Henri Bergson, a Fresh philosopher of the late 19th century, was also an author of a famous essay that focused on laughter. Before Bergson, few philosophers had given laughter much thought.
  • Other major thinkers who have offered humourless reflections about humour include Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes, who believed we laugh because we feel superior.
  • Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer argued that comedy stems from a sense of incongruity.
  • Herbert Spencer and Sigmund Freud suggested comedians give relief from nervous energy and repressed emotions.

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Everyone who ever had to explain their own joke knows that comedy cannot survive analysis. Once you take humour apart, it loses its effect and dies in the process.

Henri Bergson published his essay on laughter in 1900. He believed that laughter should be studied as 'a living thing' and treated with 'the respect due to life.'

Henri Bergson's general observations related to when laughter is most likely to appear and thrive:

  • The comic is strictly human. When laughter is directed at non-humans, we may laugh, but only because we have detected some human attitude or expression.
  • Laughter has no greater foe than emotion. Emotional states like pity, melancholy, rage, etc. make it difficult for us to find humour in the things we might otherwise have laughed at. But humour also appears to serve as a coping mechanism in the face of tragedy or misfortune.
  • Laughter seems to require an echo. It is used in the context of social bonding.

Social life requires a delicate adjustment of the will and a constant corresponding adaptation between members of a group.

In general, we laugh at people who are either too eccentric or too inflexible to allow for society to evolve and better itself. At the source of the comical are expressions that laughter seeks to correct.

  • Life never repeats itself. Therefore, when there is repetition or complete similarity, we always suspect some mechanism and are potentially witnessing the comical.
  • The comedic value of body-centered humour such as toilet humour and sexual innuendo lies in the fact that our attention is suddenly interrupted from the soul to the body.
  • Much of the word-based humour consists of taking words and phrases literally that we would generally use figuratively.
  • Laughter awakens us to the rigidity of certain personality traits or behaviours, and in doing so, discourages us from becoming too settled in our own ways.

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RELATED IDEAS

The 'Three happy boys' picture (c. 1889)

The photo was taken after the Kodak had already been launched, which enabled photos of poor people also being taken.

The picture shows three little boys laughing and having the time of their childhood.

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IDEAS

Boosting wellbeing from laughing

More and more research shows us that the benefits of laughter are wide-ranging and easily accessible. Laughter is not just a spontaneous response to something funny and although it is a social activity it can be also self-induced.

In order to develop our wellbeing with laughter, we must be able to enjoy laughing at humor itself, teach ourselves a level of comedic skill, share this with others, and also be able to laugh without the use of humor.

Laughter's Physical Power

We learn to laugh at a young age, most at infancy. Being able to laugh during our infancy years helps develop our muscles and upper body strength.

Every time we laugh, it activates many different areas of our brain because it takes a lot of work to be able to laugh, such as the motor cortex, the limbic system, and the frontal lobe. Moreover, laughter can actually help control our serotonin levels and is an actual antidote to stress.