Course No. 4156 | .MP4, AVC, 1372 kbps, 960×540 | English, AAC, 126 kbps, 2 Ch | 24×30 mins | + PDF Guidebook + AUDIOBOOK | 7.7 GB
Lecturer: Professor Steven Gimbel, Ph.D.
Humor is everywhere in our lives. It seems we’re hardwired to be funny and to be receptive to humor, even when we don’t always agree on what is funny. And it’s this ubiquity that makes humor an essential part of being human.
Great thinkers from around the world have examined humor for thousands of years. In recent decades, the philosophy of humor has been recognized as a legitimate subfield, complete with professional organizations, academic studies, and an extensive body of literature. Now, it seems, people are taking the subject of humor quite seriously.
The reason for this? Because to understand how humor works is to better understand the nature of human experience. Some of the facets of humor you will explore include:
What does it mean for something to be called a “joke”?
Is humor defined by the teller’s desire or the listener’s response?
Does framing something as “just a joke” take one off the hook morally?
Is the underlying nature of humor different for different cultures?
Should there be places and subjects that are off-limits for humor?
These and other provocative, intriguing questions form the backbone of Take My Course, Please! The Philosophy of Humor. In 24 insightful, informative, illuminating, and (yes) humorous lectures, Professor Steven Gimbel of Gettysburg College takes you through the philosophical theories and explanations of humor, from blatantly obvious puns to complex narratives to sly twists of language. Drawing from both analytical and continental philosophy, the natural and social sciences, and the observations of thinkers ranging from Aristotle and Jonathan Swift to Sigmund Freud and Immanuel Kant, this course will leave you with a stronger appreciation of the jokes you tell and the jokes you hear. What’s more, it may just leave you with a clearer idea of the true meaning of life. And that’s no laughing matter.
Explore Common Forms of Everyday Humor
All philosophers, including philosophers involved in the study of humor, begin their examinations with a series of definitional questions and central notions about their subject. And in Take My Course, Please! the question is “What is humor?”
It’s a question that leads to a host of others, each of which you’ll explore in the first third of Professor Gimbel’s course. As you ponder whether humor is universal across cultures, define objectivity versus subjectivity, and dig deep into the complex relationship between comedy and tragedy, you’ll look at several forms of humor that we encounter every day on television, on our social media feeds, in the newspaper, on the radio, and nearly everywhere people are communicating. These forms include:
Irony: While some humor is just plain silliness, a lot of it employs irony, which is the result of coming to see how things are not as you thought they were—which, interestingly, requires you to have a sense of how things really are. Indeed, irony, according to Professor Gimbel, is where Western philosophy starts.
Satire: There are parodies and there are spoofs, but only satire is the form of mockery that aims at trying to make a point about human culture that extends beyond the joke. Satire is defined by four characteristics: It’s a work of fiction, it refers to real life, it’s intended to be humorous, and its humor derives from pointing out real-life flaws.
Jokes: Many philosophers who work on humor study jokes, which are speech acts whose structure and internal mechanisms are fairly easy to see. The philosopher Victor Raskin, who enumerates 45 logical mechanisms used to generate humor, notes that all verbal jokes come from switching what linguists call “scripts” in the middle of the joke.
Unpack Fascinating Theories about Humor
To better explain and understand humor, philosophers have concocted several humor theories: sets of necessary and sufficient conditions that are claimed to define the concept of humor.
In straightforward terms, Professor Gimbel unpacks each of the six major theories of humor, from classical theories to more contemporary ones—and even reveals one of his own.
In Take My Course, Please!, you’ll delve into these approaches to humor theory:
Superiority Theory: According to Thomas Hobbes, humor is the realization of sudden glory; that is, of superiority. To joke is to mock, and to mock is to put someone or something else down beneath our level. Laughing at a joke is always laughing against someone.
Inferiority Theory: In opposition to superiority theory, inferiority theory suggests that jokes reflect acceptance of the target of the joke, rather than a put-down or exclusion. Joking is something done with those you feel comfortable with and a joke can be a form of acceptance, empathy, and solidarity—laughing with someone.
Play Theory: Play theorists argue that the anthropological and psychological evidence points to an account of humor that makes it a species of the general phenomenon of play. If someone’s joking, they say they’re only “playing around.” This, play theorists contend, should be taken quite literally.
Relief Theory: For these theorists, humor is the result of the mind summoning up energy to solve what it sees as a puzzle, only to then realize it’s a joke and that it doesn’t need all that energy. The body then releases that extra energy as explosive laughter, and humor is the relief we feel from that.
Incongruity Theory: According to this view, the central concept involved in creating humor is an incongruity, two things that clash with each other, that do not fit together. Theorists that ascribe to this framework believe it is the reason for the success of many verbal jokes, in which we are set up with certain expectations that are suddenly undermined in the end.
Cleverness Theory: Professor Gimbel’s own theory of humor starts from a different place than others. He claims there is no necessary connection between humor and laughter, and that jokes can be used for as many purposes as any other type of utterance, including to tell (or to distract from) the truth.
Professor Gimbel also devotes several lectures to examining ethical questions related to humor. In addition to wrapping your head around the ethics of ethnic and dirty jokes, you’ll consider whether there is such a thing as an inherently immoral joke, whether professional comedians have different moral standards when making jokes, and whether a sense of humor is a requirement for a well-lived life.
Appreciate the “Ridiculousness of Ridiculousness”
Professor Gimbel is a masterful teacher whose lecturing skills and range of knowledge have rightfully earned him acclaim as one of our popular Great Courses instructors. He has previously investigated formal logic and the implications of science on our modern world—and even reality itself. Humor may seem an odd companion to these challenging philosophical inquiries, but it is a personal passion for Professor Gimbel, and one to which he applies the same rigorous philosophical approach with illuminating results.
When he’s not being playful and curious about the many fascinating aspects of humor, he’s amazing you with his power to make seemingly complex, lofty questions and topics so down-to-earth. You don’t need a philosophy degree to explore the philosophy of humor. All you need is an open mind. A funny bone or two helps, as well.
If you think Take My Course, Please! will take the fun out of humor, think again. These lectures are informative and academic, yes. But they’re also just a delight to listen to—and may even add several new jokes to your own repertoire.
“Instead of killing humor, analyzing it allows us to truly appreciate the ridiculousness of ridiculousness,” Professor Gimbel says. “And hopefully you’ll find that funny.”