In contemporary studies on laughter and humour, it is quite striking that scholars very much tend to oppose the two main theories that have been defended from early Modern philosophy on: on the one hand, the so-called Superiority theory which Hobbes proposed, and the so-called Incongruity theory which, one century later, Hutcheson vigorously opposed to Hobbes. Nowadays, almost everyone seems to defend one version or another of the incongruity theory. Indeed, following Hutcheson, scholars have noticed again and again that many jokes can hardly be seen as including any obvious sense of superiority which might explain why they are funny. And yet, there are many jokes (think of Polish jokes, or Lightbulb jokes as well) that are rather aggressive in one way or another. It thus seems that aggressiveness is part of (what causes) our laughter. How can we deal with these two apparently conflicting views? I suggest that Aristotle might well offer us an interesting way of dealing with this difficulty.
Pierre Destrée is an Associate Research Fellow at the FNRS (Fonds National Belge de la Recherche Scientifique) and an Associate Professor at the Université catholique de Louvain, where he teaches ancient philosophy. His main areas of research are Plato's and Aristotle's ethics and politics, as well as their aesthetics; he has also had a longstanding interest in laughter and the usages of humor in ancient philosophy. He is the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters, mostly on presocratics, Plato and Aristotle. He has co-edited a dozen of books, most recently: (with M. Deslauriers), The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle’s Politics, Cambridge UP, 2013; (with P. Murray) The Blackwell Companion to Ancient Aesthetics, Wiley-Blackwell, 2015; (with Z. Giannopoulou) Plato: Symposium - A Critical Guide, Cambridge UP, 2017; (with R. Edmonds) Plato and the Power of Images, Brill (Series: MNEMOSYNE Supplements), 2017; (with F. Trivigno) Laughter, Humor and Comedy in Ancient Philosophy, Oxford UP (forthcoming 2018).
Respondent: Andrew Ford, Classics