"The Morality of Laughter" by F.H. Buckley [Book Review]

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Why is humour so hard to understand? Rather like attempts to explain how music can move us, attempts to explain why things are funny seem doomed from the outset. Discussions of humour typically distinguish three kinds of theory: the incongruity theory (we are amused by the incongruous), the relief theory (humour is an expression of relief in difficult situations) and the superiority theory (we laugh to express our sense of superiority over others). In the face of genuine humour, theories like these can seem pedestrian and unconvincing. F.H. Buckley’s book is, unfortunately, no exception to this rule. Coming from the superiority camp, the book defends two theses about humour. (Professor Buckley’s own word is ‘laughter’, but it is clear that he is really interested in why we laugh rather than laughter itself.) The first is what he calls the ‘Positive’ thesis: that all humour is the expression of a sense of superiority over someone else, whom he names ‘the butt’. The second he calls the ‘Normative’ thesis: that those who laugh really are superior to the butt.
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