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    Key points:

  • Plato developed one of the earliest theory of laughter

  • Plato suggested that what makes a person laughable is vice

  • Laughter is related to pleasure and pain

  • Aristotle developed on Platoís theory

  • He believes that laughable is a subdivision of the ugly

  • Laughter can be a desirable thing so as long its not too much

  • Corbis.com

    One of the earliest theories of laughter is from Plato (427 - 348 B.C.) According to him, what makes a person laughable is vice, laughable people tends to be cocky and supercilious. For example, they may see themselves as wealthier, more handsome or smarter than they really are.

    Secondly, he emphasizes laughter bears close relations with pleasure and pain and his analogy for this statement would be relieving an itch by scratching. The itch is relieved by the pleasure of scratching, whereas the pleasure of laughter relieves the pain associated with the gloating over friends?misfortune.

    Platoís theory was further developed by many other philosophers over the centuries. One of them was Aristotle. To Aristotle, the laughable is a subdivision of the ugly that does not cause injury or pain. However there were differences between Plato's beliefs and Aristotle's. Aristotle believed that a little tasteful laughter is a desirable thing, but not too much of it, or else excess of it will appear to be vulgar rather than pleasant.

    Later, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) further built upon both Aristotle and Platoís theories. He stated that laughter is the expression of a 'sudden glory arising from some sudden ideas in our minds of some eminency (distinguished from the rest) in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or with our own formerly.'

    With the combination of all these theories, they can be all classified as the Superiority Theory of laughter.


    The following is, supposedly, the actual radio conversation of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1995. This joke should let you understand what is the superiority theory of laughter:

    CANADIANS: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.
    AMERICANS: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.
    CANADIANS: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.
    AMERICANS: This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.
    CANADIANS: No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.
    AMERICANS: This is the Aircraft Carrier US LINCOLN, the second largest ship in the United States Atlantic Fleet. We are accompanied with three Destroyers, three Cruisers and numerous support vessels. I DEMAND that you change your course 15 degrees north. I say again, that's one-five degrees north, or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.
    CANADIANS: This is a lighthouse. Itís your call.

    Courtesy of: www2.truman.edu/~todd/JINSCourse/Lectures/HumorTheories2.html


    In summary, the Superiority Theory comes into play when we laugh at jokes that pinpoint on someone else's mistakes, stupidity, misfortune or even weaknesses of others. We feel ourselves as of higher standard or, at least, level with him or her. We will also experience a certain detachment from the situation due to the superior feeling we are experiencing currently and so are able to laugh at it. In other words, we are also punishing the personís weakness in the form of laughter.