Thoughts on Laughter
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Thoughts on Laughter and Observations on “The Fable of the Bees” in Six Letters is a book by Francis Hutcheson.
A book edition was originally published in 1758. Francis Hutcheson’s three essays on laughter first appeared in the Dublin Journal on 5, 12, and 19 June 1725, and were signed “Philomeides” (lover of laughter). In 1726 Hutcheson published three essays critical of Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees (1714) on 4, 12,, and 19 February, in the same journal, this time signing the anonymous essays “P.M.”
It expressed in what became a key concept in the evolving theory of the comic: laughter as a response to the perception of incongruity.
- "He finds it difficult to treat the subject of laughter " gravely," but gives his theory of the cause of laughter, which is " the bringing together of images which have contrary additional ideas, as well as some resemblance in the principal idea; this contrast between ideas of grandeur, dignity, sanctity, perfection, and ideas of meanness, baseness, profanity, seems to be the very spirit of burlesque, and the greater part of our raillery and jest are founded on it." Some such view as this has ever since been given of wit. Samuel Johnson describes it as a sort of concordia discors or concors discordia. Hutcheson ventures to specify the use of laughter: " Our passions are apt to lead us into foolish apprehensions of objects both in the way of admiration and honor, and ridicule comes in to temper our minds." This moderate view falls considerably short of that given by Shaftesbury, who represents ridicule as a test of truth."