Version: v1, Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 20, 2018, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/humour/v-1
What is meant by saying that something is humorous or funny? It is clear that humorousness must be elucidated in terms of the characteristic response to humour, namely humorous amusement, or mirth. It is plausible to define humour in this way: for something to be humorous is for it to be disposed to elicit mirth in appropriate people through their awareness or cognition of it, and not for ulterior reasons. But this invites the question, ‘What is mirth?’ The three leading ideas in philosophical theories of humour are those of incongruity, superiority and relief or release. Although the perception of incongruity is often involved in finding something funny, and the resolution of a perceived incongruity plays an important role in good humour, none of these, in themselves or combined with others, is capable of capturing the concept of mirth. Mirth is not identical with the pleasurable perception of an incongruity, pleasure in feeling superior, the relief of tension or release of accumulated mental energy, or any combination of these elements. A better account of mirth is that it is a certain kind of pleasurable reaction which tends to issue in laughter if the reaction is sufficiently intense. So something is funny if it in itself pleases appropriate people through being grasped, where the pleasure is of the sort that leads, though not inevitably, to laughter.
Levinson, Jerrold. Humour, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M027-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/humour/v-1.
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