Santayanas Theory Of Humor

The Spanish-born American philosopher and poet George Santayana (1863-1952) challenged both the incongruity and superiority theories of humor. Santayana's theory of humor indicates that amusement (i.e., the feeling that prompts laughter) is more directly a physical thing than incongruity and superiority theories claim - it depends on a certain amount of nervous excitement (e.g., a person may be amused merely by being tickled or by hearing or seeing other people who laugh). Although he does critique both the incongruity and superiority humor theories, Santayana does not totally reject those theories; for instance, he agrees that people often laugh in situations involving incongruity or degradation. Thus, according to Santayana, when we react to a comic incongruity or degradation, it is never those things in themselves that give pleasure but, rather, it is the excitement and stimulation caused by the person's perception of those things. Santayana insists that it is impossible to enjoy the incongruity itself - as some versions of incongruity theory provide -because, as rational animals, humans are averse constitutionally or innately to absurdity, incongruity, or nonsense in any form. Santayana, like Plato before him, maintains that amusement is a pleasure that is mixed with pain, and that is why people prefer to get their mental stimulation - including humor -without incongruity. The essence of humor, according to Santayana, is that amusing weakness should be combined with an "amicable humanity." See also HUMOR, THEORIES OF; INCONGRUITY/ INCONSISTENCY THEORIES OF HUMOR; PLATO'S THEORY OF HUMOR; SUPERIORITY THEORIES OF HUMOR. REFERENCE

Santayana, G. (1896/1904). The sense of beauty. New York: Scribner's.

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