Everyone loves a laugh now and then, except for most of the philosophers you've heard of.
- People like things that make them laugh, but have we considered if that is a good thing?
- Some philosophers, including Plato, thought comedy was bad for you.
- Most modern thinkers tend to get away from that, but still debate what should and shouldn't be laughed at.
The Philosophy of Humor<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WTl_xjOyZsc" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Believe it or not, the same people who debated the existence of chairs for two millennia had some differing ideas on what humor was and if it was good or not. Plato famously thought that comedy was bad, vicious even, and that most if not all laughter came at somebody else's expense. He viewed laughter as a "passion," and considered being taken by it as a loss of self-control, as did many philosophers before him. In <em>"</em>Republic,<em>" </em>he proposes that in his utopian city certain important people should never laugh and that strict censorship should keep objectionable, presumably hilarious works away from people.</p><p>Several centuries later, the great stoic philosopher <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epictetus/" target="_blank">Epictetus</a> encouraged people to "Let not your laughter be loud, frequent, or unrestrained" and, allegedly, never laughed once in his life, which he considered a point of virtue. <br> <br> Most of Western Philosophy took its cues from Plato and the stoics for a very long time and spoke poorly of humor as a result. Many famous thinkers, such as <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hobbes/" target="_blank">Thomas Hobbes</a> and <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descartes/" target="_blank">Rene Descartes</a>, attributed most laughter to a sense of superiority over others. <br> <br> However, <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant/" target="_blank">Immanuel Kant</a>, the famously boring philosopher, went in another direction. He supported the idea that laughter was caused by the incongruity of what we expect to happen and what <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/humor/#IncThe" target="_blank">happens</a>. A good joke, he reasoned, builds up expectations, which it then resolves "into nothing." This idea, that humor is based on differences in expectations and reality, is prevalent in both philosophy and psychology. <br> <br> He even provided a series of jokes to explain himself, the best example being:<br> <br> "The heir of a rich relative wished to arrange for an imposing funeral, but he lamented that he could not properly succeed; 'for' (said he) 'the more money I give my mourners to look sad, the more cheerful they look!'"</p><p>Despite this, Kant and the philosophers who agreed with him didn't think comedy was "good" per se. They're just suggesting that laughs not based on malice are possible. It has only been recently that philosophers have paid much attention to the pro-comedy minority. This becomes even stranger when you realize how many heavy hitters are on that team. </p><p><a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle/" target="_blank">Aristotle</a>, the most famous student of Plato, continued his policy of disagreeing with this teacher by deciding that comedy could be okay. He argued that living a good life requires that you enjoy yourself from time to time and that humor is a part of that. He further maintained that being witty is a <a href="https://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/aristotles-11-guidelines-for-living-a-good-life" target="_blank">virtue</a>. <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aquinas/" target="_blank"></a></p><p><a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aquinas/" target="_blank">St. Thomas Aquinas,</a> a great philosopher in his own right, largely agreed with Aristotle and expanded on these notions. He argued that, as sleep provides physical rest, laughter provides psychological rest. He also noticed the social benefits of laughing with other people. These ideas have been expanded on by other writers up to the present day. </p><p>We have even reached a point where many public intellectuals will incorporate wit into their work on purpose. Most notable among these people are <a href="https://bigthink.com/u/slavoj-zizek" target="_blank">Slavoj Žižek</a>, who makes enough jokes to fill a <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/slavoj-zizek-jokes" target="_blank">book</a>, and <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/russell/" target="_blank">Bertrand Russell</a>, whose quotes include moments of absolute <a href="https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Bertrand_Russell" target="_blank">hilarity</a>. <br> <br> While most people probably wouldn't consider being funny a "<a href="https://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/virtue-ethics-the-moral-system-you-have-never-heard-of-but-have-probably-used" target="_blank">virtue</a>" in the same way that Aristotle did, his ideas on humor, often called the "<a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/humor/#HumPlaLauPlaSig" target="_blank">play</a>" theory, are likely the foundation of most people's understanding of what humor is and if it is of any use or not. <br> <br> Of course, even if you take the view that humor is a good thing, or even just that it isn't inherently bad, there is still the question of how to use it properly. For this, we'll have to turn to the never-ending debate over the ethics of humor. </p>
To joke, or not to joke, that is the question.<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/S0_NUyPt2Q4" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Even after addressing the problem of whether comedy is good, bad, or neutral, the issue of what can be the subject of laughter still has to be resolved. As we've seen, this issue goes back to Ancient Greece. It should surprise nobody that we still debate it. But what should and shouldn't we joke about? Is there a clear line? Does context matter? Professor John Morreall of William and Mary can provide us some guidance. He has worked in the philosophy of humor for decades and has written several essays, <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/humor/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">articles</a>, and books on the subject. <br> <br> He restates in his essay "<a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/sjp.12390?af=R" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Good, The Bad, and the Funny: An Ethics of Humor</a>" a proposal that he has made before; that a general principle can be applied to humor, "Don't play with something which you should take seriously."<br> <br> This seems like a simple enough idea; if matches aren't something to be played with, then perhaps racial stereotypes aren't either? But where is the line in cases like this?</p><p>To explain how this might be used, he offers examples of broad categories of jokes that rely on making fun of certain types of people. In the classic "Dumb Blonde" joke, the idea that all blondes are a bit slow is entertained. However, Dr. Morreall argues that to find the joke funny doesn't require that we really believe that blondes are stupid nor that anybody thinks the moon is closer than <a href="https://www.wattpad.com/160752952-dumb-blonde-jokes-alabama" target="_blank">Florida</a>. </p><p>It is possible to play with these notions without taking them seriously or coming away from the joke with a bias towards blondes. Other jokes cross the line, though. Some harmful stereotypes that people believe can be kept in circulation through jokes, or reinforced in a way that causes harm later. In these cases, it may be morally objectionable to use the stereotype for laughs due to the harm it can cause elsewhere. A similar line of reasoning exists for jokes that utilize issues of deadly seriousness; some things should not be made light of for fear of causing us not to take them seriously. <br> <br> An example of a line crosser Dr. Morreall cites in several of his essays is the cover of National Lampoon's "Dessert Issue." In a spoof of the cover of the "Concert for Bangladesh" album, the magazine depicts a starving child in the form of a partially eaten chocolate statue. </p><p>The argument here is that by making the cover of a famous aid concert the subject of mockery, we can belittle the severity of the issue of the humanitarian crisis it refers to. <br> <br> On the other hand, Dr. Morreall also argues that there are many positives humor can bring. He mentions the joy it can bring, the social benefits of being able to laugh with friends, the ability of a good pun to lower tensions, and the ability of many jokes to let us step back and consider the absurdities of a topic we don't notice when we're too close to the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOM0t6TRrg4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">situation</a>. <br> <br> Given the universality of laughter, humor seems to be one of the more important elements of the human condition. While philosophy has taken a strangely negative view of it for most of its history, more recent thinkers have begun to tout the benefits of a laugh now and then. </p><p>So go on, enjoy a lousy pun. It's probably virtuous. </p>
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Watch The Daily Show comedian Jordan Klepper and elite improviser Bob Kulhan live.
These days, if you don't laugh, you might just scream. Enter comedian and The Daily Show regular Jordan Klepper!
What better way to understand the world around us than through jokes?
- Slavoj Žižek is a remarkably funny philosopher, who has a joke for every theory and can explain things in a fun way.
- His tendency to joke has helped endear him to the public, though it does sometimes irk curmudgeons.
- Not every joke he makes is suitable for republishing here.
Join Slavoj Žižek live on Big Think today (June 11) at 1 pm ET!<a href="https://youtu.be/weB1rG9xM7k" ><img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM4Njk3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzI2OTQ3Nn0.mVk4zmm4ucyRu38dFsB2dmS5TQsO2r4B0fYRzYBI0oQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="d9138" width="1500" height="844" data-rm-shortcode-id="93c78f2fc8436226e5e1c01f0af28864" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /></a><p style="text-align: center;">Join the live stream free via <a href="https://youtu.be/weB1rG9xM7k" target="_blank">YouTube</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/BigThinkdotcom/posts/10157408399943527" target="_blank">Facebook</a>, or via <a href="https://www.bigthinkedge.com/" target="_blank">Big Think Edge</a> (for subscribers only).<br></p>
"The task today is to give the protesters red ink."<p style="margin-left: 20px;">In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends: "Let's establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false." After a month, his friends get the first letter, written in blue ink: "Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theaters show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair—the only thing unavailable is red ink."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">And is this not our situation till now? We have all the freedoms one wants—the only thing missing is the "red ink": we "feel free" because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to designate the present conflict —"war on terror," "democracy and freedom," "human rights," etc.—are false terms, mystifying our perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think it. The task today is to give the protesters red ink.</p>
Derrida feat. Žižek<p style="margin-left: 20px;">There is an old Jewish joke, loved by Derrida, about a group of Jews in a synagogue publicly admitting their nullity in the eyes of God. First, a rabbi stands up and says: "O God, I know I am worthless. I am nothing!" After he has finished, a rich businessman stands up and says, beating himself on the chest: "O God, I am also worthless, obsessed with material wealth. I am nothing!" After this spectacle, a poor ordinary Jew also stands up and also proclaims: "O God, I am nothing." The rich businessman kicks the rabbi and whispers in his ear with scorn: "What insolence! Who is that guy who dares to claim that he is nothing too!"</p>
Jokes can explain precisely what Žižek wants the left to do, kinda:<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="Whe3KqWi" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8b4354bc381f3d50df073d08c33965c0"> <div id="botr_Whe3KqWi_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Whe3KqWi-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/Whe3KqWi-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Whe3KqWi-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p style="margin-left: 20px;">The God we get here is rather like the one from the old Bolshevik joke about an able Communist propagandist who, after his death, finds himself in hell, where he quickly convinces the guards to let him leave and go to heaven instead. When the Devil notices his absence, he quickly pays a visit to God, demanding that he return to hell what belongs to the Devil. However, immediately after the Devil starts to address God: "My Lord …" God interrupts him: "First, I am not Lord but a comrade. Second, are you crazy talking to a fictional being?—I don't exist! And third, be short, otherwise, I'll miss my party cell meeting!"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">This is the God today's radical Left needs: a God who wholly "became man"—a comrade among us, crucified together with two social outcasts—and who not only "doesn't exist" but also himself knows this, accepting his erasure, entirely passing over into the love that binds members of the Holy Ghost (the party, the emancipatory collective).</p>
How Žižek explains fantasmatic identification<p style="margin-left: 20px;">There is a nice joke about Jesus Christ: in order to relax after the arduous work of preaching and performing miracles, Jesus decided to take a short break on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. During a game of golf with one of his apostles, there was a difficult shot to be performed; Jesus did it badly and the ball ended up in the water, so he did his usual trick: he walked on the water to the place where the ball was, reached down and picked it up. When Jesus tried the same shot again, the apostle told him that this is a very difficult one — only someone like Tiger Woods can do it; Jesus replied, "What the hell, I am the son of God, I can do what Tiger Woods can do!" and took another strike. The ball again landed in the water, so Jesus again took a walk on the surface of the water to retrieve it. At this point, a group of American tourists walked by and one of them, observing what was going on, turned to the apostle and said: "My god, who is this guy there? Does he think he is Jesus or what?" The apostle replies: "No, the jerk thinks he is Tiger Woods!"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">This is how fantasmatic identification works: No one, not even God himself, is directly what he is; everybody needs an external, decentered point of identification.</p>
Noting quite explains complicated political issues like a good joke<p style="margin-left: 20px;">When the Turkish Communist writer Panait Istrati visited the Soviet Union in the mid-1930s, the time of the big purges and show trials, a Soviet apologist trying to convince him about the need for violence against the enemies evoked the proverb "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs," to which Istrati tersely replied: "All right. I can see the broken eggs. Where's this omelet of yours?"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">We should say the same about the austerity measures imposed by IMF: the Greeks would have the full right to say, "OK, we are breaking our eggs for all of Europe, but where's the omelet you are promising us?"</p>
He can describe the exact differences between different kinds of socialism with jokes too!<p style="margin-left: 20px;">Take the old joke about the difference between Soviet-style bureaucratic Socialism and Yugoslav self-management Socialism: in Russia, members of the nomenklatura drive themselves in expensive limousines, while in Yugoslavia, ordinary people themselves ride in limousines through their representatives.</p>
Nothing is sacred to Žižek’s sense of humor:<p style="margin-left: 20px;">Christ says to those who want to stone the woman taken in adultery, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone!" he is immediately hit by a stone, and then shouts back: "Mother! I asked you to stay at home!"</p>
A reminder to double-check precisely what you're presupposing<p style="margin-left: 20px;">A joke from the early 1960s nicely renders the paradox of the presupposed belief. After Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut, made his visit to space, he was received by Nikita Khruschev, the general secretary of the Communist Party, and told him confidentially: "You know, comrade, that up there in the sky, I saw heaven with God and angels—Christianity is right!" Khruschev whispers back to him: "I know, I know, but keep quiet, don't tell this to anyone!" Next week, Gagarin visited the Vatican and was received by the pope, to whom he confides: "You know, holy father, I was up there in the sky and I saw there is no God or angels …" "I know, I know," interrupts the pope, "but keep quiet, don't tell this to anyone!"<br></p>
A short joke is a good joke<p style="margin-left: 20px;">Today, the old joke about a rich man telling his servant "Throw out this destitute beggar—I'm so sensitive that I can't stand seeing people suffer!" is more appropriate than ever.<sup><a href="http://magazine.nytyrant.com/four-zizeks-jokes/#fn3" target="_blank"></a></sup></p>
And lastly, how to make soup<p style="margin-left: 20px;">Here is how anyone can make a good soup in one hour: prepare all the ingredients, cut the vegetables, etc., boil the water, put the ingredients into it, cook them at a simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally; when, after three-quarters of an hour, you discover that the soup is tasteless and unpalatable, throw it away, open up a good can of soup, and quickly warm it up in a microwave oven. This is how we humans make soup.<strong></strong></p>
Do you get worried or angry? Ever forget to tithe? One minister has bad news for you.
- A recently published article claims to identify the symptoms of "low-level atheism."
- Among these symptoms are worrying, cursing, and not tithing.
- There is a solution to all of this though, not being an atheist. Sending in money is also involved.