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New Directions in Aesthetics #9: Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humorby John Morreall
Synopses & Reviews
Western philosophy’s traditional assessment of the nature and value of humor has not been kind, as the standard theories made humor look antisocial, irrational, and foolish. It wasn’t until well into the twentieth century that humor gained even a semblance of respect. Comic Relief goes a great way toward ameliorating this injustice. In it, noted philosophical humor writer John Morreall develops a comprehensive theory that integrates psychological, aesthetic, and ethical issues relating to humor. He also presents and critiques the standard Superiority, Incongruity, and Relief Theories of humor, revealing how they not only fail to explain its nature, but actually support traditional prejudices against humor. While utilizing elements from traditional theories of humor, Morreall goes into much greater depth about the opposition between amusement and emotions, the cognitive and practical disengagement in humor, the psychological and social benefits of humor, and the comic vision of life itself. He further argues that humor’s benefits overlap significantly with those of philosophy, concluding that philosophy’s traditional rejection of humor has been an egregious error. Informed by scholarly research, Comic Relief is an enlightening and accessible foray into the serious business of humor.
Book News Annotation:
Why do we find something funny? The standard academic explanations have to do with superiority, incongruity, and/or psychological relief. None of these explanations account for humor satisfactorily, says Morreall (Religious Studies, College of William and Mary), a widely recognized expert on humor. In this often quite funny book, he develops a comprehensive philosophic theory that integrates psychological, aesthetic, and ethical aspects of humor. In this process, Morreall details the opposition between amusement and emotions; the cognitive and practical disengagement in humor; and the psychological and social benefits of humor. Philosophy has been wrong to ignore humor, the author argues, since the benefits of humor have a big overlap with the benefits of philosophy. While popular in style, Comic Relief is based on scholarly research. It should be of interest to anyone who has ever laughed. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor develops an inclusive theory that integrates psychological, aesthetic, and ethical issues relating to humor
About the Author
John Morreall’s previous publications include Taking Laughter Seriously (1983); The Philosophy of Laughter and Humor (1987); Humor Works (1997); and Comedy, Tragedy, and Religion (1999). In 2004 and 2005, he was elected President of the International Society for Humor Studies. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Economist.
Table of Contents
Foreword - Robert Mankoff, Cartoon Editor of The New Yorker.
1 No Laughing Matter: The Traditional Rejection of Humor and Traditional Theories of Humor.
Humor, 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.
2 Fight or Flight – or Laughter: The Psychology of Humor.
Humor and Disengagement.
Humor as Play.
Laughter as a Play Signal.
3 From Lucy to "I Love Lucy": The Evolution of Humor.
What Was First Funny?
The Basic Pattern in Humor: The Playful Enjoyment of a Cognitive Shift Is Expressed in Laughter.
The Worth of Mirth.
4 That Mona Lisa Smile: The Aesthetics of Humor.
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.
5 Laughing at the Wrong Time: The Negative Ethics of Humor.
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.
6 Having a Good Laugh: The Positive Ethics of Humor.
Intellectual Virtues Fostered by Humor.
Moral Virtues Fostered by Humor.
Humor during the Holocaust.
7 Homo Sapiens and Homo Ridens: Philosophy and Comedy.
Was Socrates the First Stand-up Comedian?
Humor and the Existentialists.
The Laughing Buddha.
8 The Glass Is Half-Empty and Half-Full: Comic Wisdom.
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