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Re: [socratescafe-119] New Meetup: Socrates Cafe Meetup: The Philosophy of Humor

From: user 9.
Sent on: Thursday, April 15, 2010 10:56 AM
I'll be there.  Dave E

-----Original Message-----
From: Andy <[address removed]>
Sent: Apr 14,[masked]:32 PM
To: [address removed]
Subject: [socratescafe-119] New Meetup: Socrates Cafe Meetup: The Philosophy of Humor

Announcing a new Meetup for Socrates Cafe!

What: Socrates Cafe Meetup: The Philosophy of Humor

When: Saturday, April 24,[masked]:00 PM

Mama Jean's Market
1727 South Campbell Avenue
Springfield, MO 65807

Hello, Socrates Cafe-goers!

Philosophy is supposed to be about serious, existential questions, right? What interesting things could philosophers have to say about the light, comedic side of life? After all, when you want a good laugh, you don��t turn to a philosopher. But one hallmark of philosophy is its quest for understanding, and it��s hard to really understand human beings without understanding what makes them laugh. Few aspects of our personalities and characters define us as much as our sense of humor. Philosophers from Socrates and Aristotle to Thomas Hobbes and Immanuel Kant��as well as other noted thinkers such as Sigmund Freud��have sought to shed light on the nature of humor. They have also wondered whether it is immoral to find certain things humorous.

Many ancient Greek philosophers��preeminent among them Aristotle and Plato��held a negative view of humor. This view, later endorsed by Thomas Hobbes, is embodied in the Superiority Theory. It postulates that laughter is always directed at someone as an expression of scorn. Even wit, often considered intellectual humor, is labeled ��educated insolence�� by Aristotle. Proponents of the Superiority Theory believe that we laugh from feelings of superiority over others, or sometimes at our own inferiority. The slapstick comedy of the dimwitted Three Stooges or the nincompoopery of Homer Simpson may be humorous to some viewers because the viewers see themselves as superior to the provokers of their laughter. Because of the supposedly morally dubious nature of humor and laughter, close examination of these phenomena was avoided for some time.

Claiming to find many counterexamples to the Superiority Theory of humor, later thinkers like Kant and Kierkegaard posited ��incongruity�� as the source of humor. The Incongruity Theory holds that humorousness is grounded in perceptions or thoughts that clash with what we would have normally expected. This is the most popular view, currently, but other theories exist. One worth noting, the Relief Theory, was constructed by Herbert Spencer and Sigmund Freud, and considers laughter the venting of nervous energy, a purely physiological phenomenon.

There is also a salient ethical component in the philosophy of humor. Should we laugh at jokes that are offensive? What exactly makes a joke offensive? This is an especially significant issue when the object of ridicule is a racial or ethnic minority, like blacks or Latinos, or a historically oppressed group, such as women or gays. Do jokes about members of such groups merely reinforce emotional biases, or can they serve to help us cope with perceived inequity?

These topics represent only a small segment of the philosophy of humor, and illustrate its fitness for philosophical analysis.

We are lucky to have a distinguished humorist, Yakov Smirnoff, joining us. And my distinguished former student Mario Esquivel (he's distinguished among my former students, at least, and he supplied the first draft of this announcement) has graciously volunteered to moderate. He's much more acquainted with the philosophical literature on humor than I am!

If you're interested in being part of this discussion, you should RSVP soon. I expect the available seats to go fast!

Yours in Socrates,

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