South African Journal of Philosophy

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The function and content of amusement

Ward E Jones


Once we establish that the fundamental subject matter of the study of humour is a mental state – which I will call finding funny – then it immediately follows that we need to find the content and function of this mental state. The main contender for the content of finding funny is the incongruous (the incongruity thesis); the main contenders for the function of finding funny are grounded either in its generally being an enjoyable state (the gratification thesis) or its tendency to lead to biased social attitudes (the favouritism thesis). While all three of these families of claims are well-supported and individually plausible, the situation looks different once we attempt to unify our accounts of the content and function of finding funny. While functions based in the gratification thesis readily combine with the incongruity thesis, it is not at all clear how the phenomenon described by the favouritism thesis arises from a state with this content. The upshot is that we may have to sideline the favouritism thesis in our theory of humour.

South African Journal of Philosophy Vol. 25(2) 2006: 126-137
AJOL African Journals Online