Virtues/Humor

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Introduction:[edit]

Humor brings us joy as it exposes a simple truth in some new or unexpected way. We laugh spontaneously when our brains recognize “I never thought of it that way.” And thinking of it “that way” expands our understanding of the world.

We are rewarded with a good laugh when we discover we have prematurely made some mistaken assumption. This bribes our brains into examining and correcting the assumptions we make as we continue to interpret reality.[1] As a result we increase our skill at interpreting what we experience.

Goethe observed: “Nothing shows a man’s character more than what he laughs at.” Humor is a pleasant medium, using jokes as a meme, for displaying intelligence, mutual knowledge, and opinion.[2] Humor reveals our knowledgebase, beliefs, values, and wit—an important form of intelligence—to ourselves and others.

While humor is benign, irony is not. Irony laughs at others, while humor laughs only at the self, or proxies for the self. Laughter from humor brings joy; laughter from irony exposes scorn or contempt. Where irony wounds, humor heals. Irony is merciless, humor is merciful. Irony is humiliating, humor is humble.[3]

The Virtue of Humor[edit]

Humor is a virtue because stodginess is not. Humor requires mental adroitness in imagining and understanding a variety of perspectives. This is an important problem solving skill. In addition, humor brings us that particular pleasure known as mirth. Humor pokes fun without malice; it is a harmless joy.

Aristotle considered wittiness the virtue at the mean between buffoonery and boorishness.

Humor acts as a social corrective because it points out mistakes, often publicly. This influences people to become aware of, and avoid, such mistakes.[4]

A person who lacks humor also lacks humility, lucidity, and lightheartedness. Humor challenges those uptight people—the snob, the self-righteous, the pedantic, the bully—who take themselves too seriously.[5]

Everyday Humor[edit]

Practice the virtue of humor every day in these various ways:

  • Before saying something you intend to be funny, decide if it is benign humor, or biting irony.
  • If you find yourself amused by childish, sexist, racists, or other exploitive jokes, it may be important for you to reexamine your beliefs and values in those areas. Respect the dignity of all people as you develop your virtuous sense of humor.
  • Be neither the buffoon nor the boor.

Assignment[edit]

  • Select a sample of 10 jokes chosen from any source. Select the jokes from anywhere you like, including TV or radio programs, on-line sources, friends, comedy acts, books, or compilations (available on line) such as these 1001 jokes collected for the book Quirkology.
  • Classify each as being either (virtuous) humor or (mean spirited) irony.

References[edit]

  1. Dennet, Daniel C.; Hurley, Matthew M.; Adams, Reginald B. Jr. (2011). Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind. The MIT Press. pp. 376. ISBN 978-0262015820. 
  2. Dennet, Daniel C.; Hurley, Matthew M.; Adams, Reginald B. Jr. (2011). Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind. The MIT Press. pp. 376. ISBN 978-0262015820. 
  3. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 
  4. Dennet, Daniel C.; Hurley, Matthew M.; Adams, Reginald B. Jr. (2011). Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind. The MIT Press. pp. 376. ISBN 978-0262015820. 
  5. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 

Further Reading[edit]

Students interested in learning more about humor may wish to study the following materials: