Three Philosophers Walk Into a Bar

Three Philosophers Walk Into a Bar

THE SOURCE: “What’s So Funny? Or, Why Humor Should Matter to Philosophers” by Camille Atkinson, in Philosophy Today, Winter 2006.

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Philosophers have never been much for jokes. It’s not that they can’t crack a smile, but that they don’t see much philosophical value in humor, writes Camille Atkinson, a philosophy instructor at Central Oregon Community College. She thinks that’s a mistake.

There are three general theories of humor. The superiority theory, which prevailed from Plato’s time to the 18th century, holds that humor involves feeling superior to somebody else—or wanting to. The Athenians may have had jokes about how many Spartans it takes to light a torch; we have our own endless varieties, ranging from harmless stereotypes of absent-minded professors to stinging putdowns of ethnic groups.

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