The discourse of the laughter theory in the optics of postpositivism and postmodernism

Historical reconstruction of the development philosophy of laughter. The use of the concept of postpositivism as principles of incompleteness and inexhaustibility of the theory. Postmodernism Rizoma as a tool for understanding theories of laughter.

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T.H. Shevchenko National University Chernihiv Collegium

Philology Faculty

Chair of Philosophy and Cultural Studies

Department of Foreign Languages

The discourse of the laughter theory in the optics of postpositivism and postmodernism

Stoliar M.B., Doctor of Sciences in Philosophy

Stechenko T.O., Candidate of Pedagogic Sciences,

Associate Professor

Ukraine, Chernihiv

The aim of the article is to show some potential resourcesfor development of the philosophy of laughter. The authors propose tofind these resources in:

1) using the principle of proliferation of the theories of laughter;

2) making historical- philosophical reconstructions;

3) re-evaluating the rationalfoundations of critics of a certain paradigm. The methodological basis of the article includes such principles of Post-positivism as the incompleteness principle and the principle of inexhaustibility of theory. The authors consider the Postmodernist concept of Rhizome to be instrumentalfor understanding the interrelations between different theories of laughter. Such characteristic of Rhizome as heterogeneity allows us to see the plurality of principally different laughters. This allows us to define more clearly the objectofresearch within the geliological discourse.

Keywords: paradigms of the philosophy of laughter, principles of proliferation, of incompleteness, and of inexhaustibility of theory, Rhizome, heterogeneity of laughter.

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The analysis of the percent correlation of the researches on the theme of laughter to the researches on other philosophical themes, would show that this ratio is so low, as to be safely neglected. Some thinkers consider the theme of laughter in philosophy to be surprisingly understudied [23, . 1]. L. Olin thinks that one of the most important problems that the contemporary theory should solve is the following paradox. On one hand, we can state the central role of laughter in mental life and social discourse. On the other, given that role, why has the topic been so neglected? [19, p. 346]. Even if we do not subscribe to such a categorical statement about the supreme importance of laughter in the culture, the paradox still stands.

The aim of the article is:

1) to show some potential resources for development of the philosophy of laughter, and

2) the justification of the skepticism as to the attempts of creating the unified theory of laughter.

The methodological basis of the work is the Postmodernist concept of Rhizome, T. Kuhn's paradigm method and such principles of Postpositivism as the incompleteness principle and the principle of inexhaustibility of theory.

One of the traditional themes of the philosophical geliology (greek - laughter) is the mystery of the essence of laughter. Since the ancient times and up to our own days many philosophers have tried to solve it. Among them are Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Spencer, Freud, Bergson, Santayana, Propp and many others. In the mid XX ct., while trying to summarize these works, D. Monro formulated the three main theories of the laughter discourse: Superiority Theory, Incongruity Theory and Relief Theory [17].

We should note that 11 years before the publishing of T. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Monro uses the paradigmal approach to investigate the philosophical theme bordering on science. He concludes that the above-mentioned theories of laughter are not mutually exclusive but complementary. Each theory allows us to see aspects, hidden from another theory. He writes: Each of these theories of humor is able to explain some types of humor, but it may be doubted if any of them can satisfactorily explain every type of humor. Superiority theories account very well for our laughter at small misfortunes and for the appeal of satire, but are less happy in dealing with word play, incongruity, nonsense, and indecency. Incongruity theories, on the other hand, are strong where superiority theories are weakest, and weak where they are strongest. Relief theories account admirably for laughter at indecency, malice, and nonsense ... but are forced to concede that there is an intrinsic appeal in incongruity and word play that is quite independent of relief from restraint [18, p. 354-355].

D. Monro suggests a development model of the philosophical study of laughter, quite different from Kuhn's model. In spite of his own postulation of the principle of inexhaustibility of every extant theory, the latter builds mainly linear scheme. Monro, on the contrary, shows the non-linear correlations between the theories. In the center of Kuhn's conception, there is notion of scientific revolution. In Monro's theory, the dynamics of the philosophy of laughter is the dynamics of complex, interrelated evolutionary changes, which do not have a single source and a well-defined vector. If we make a model of Monro's history of the laughter philosophy, the closest model would be the Rhizome of the Postmodernist philosophy [3]. Rhizome fixes the horizontal (inter-species) relations of the different laughter theories, while Kuhn's model of the scientific development reflects their vertical and linear connections.

The contemporary discourse of the philosophy of laughter is an example of such a Post-positivist concept as the proliferation principle. P. Feyerabend, the author of the principle, thinks that the effective development of cognition implies completely free multiplication of theories, including the most improbable ones [7, s. 166-178]. And in reality now there are several dozens of laughter theories [Maier Barbara], Their total quantity is ever increasing. Ukrainian philosopher S. Proleyev sees the cause of multiplicity of laughter theories in the context of such a feature of Rhizome as the heterogeneity. He suggests the need to deconstruct the theory of laughter, supplanting it with laughters (italics ours -M. S., T. S.) as the multitude of intentions of heterogeneous origin, that do not have a semantic common denominator [5, s. 29]. Within this paradigm, he uses the strategy of comprehending laughter as the ontologically different laughters, each of them creating an autonomous world of meanings and semantic dispositions [4, s. 58]. The author calls his position the heterogenic conception oflaughter.

From the point of view of representatives of the heterogenic approach, every thinker should attentively examine empirical foundation of their position, and concretize the object, exactly formulating what kind oflaughter practices would be studied. Results of the investigation should not be automatically applied to different laughter discourses. If we take into consideration, the fact that laughter is a polyvariant, or at least, ambivalent phenomenon, the objective variety of kinds of laughter would be further multiplied by the different aspects of studying each of them.

The heterogenic laughter theory allows avoiding some misunderstandings between representatives of different philosophical approaches. For example, critics oflncongruity Theory state that the contrast of expected and real is far from being necessary and sufficient cause of laughter. As a proof, they give numerous instances of incongruities that are not funny. They often cite . Bane's list [19, p. 343]. It lists examples of contrasts that cause feelings of pain, sadness, anger and so on [10, p. 257]. But there is not a single representative of incongruity Theory who would state that incongruity is the only cause of laughter. Every thinker investigates specific laughter incongruities and tries to formulate their algorithm. For example, Aristotle, who is often considered to be a founder of Incongruity Theory, proposes his own definition of the comic. This formulation retains its value in the contemporary philosophical discourse: comic is only a piece of the ugliness which causes no pain or destruction, thus, to go no farther the comic mask is something ugly and distorted but painless [1449 a, 33-40]. Enjoying a comedy, we can laugh at ugliness, if that ugliness is not painful or destructive to us.

Aristotle not only

1) defines the measure of incongruity that can become an object of laughter, but also

2) clearly defines the species (theatre) and genre (comedy) borders of cultural practices, within which the phenomenon of harmless evil can be comic.

As we see, the philosopher prevents possible objections based on the fact that in life there are many situations of contrast that are non-comic. Aristotle does not investigate funny situations in human life - he studies artistic laughter practices.

Besides, Aristotle considered that laughter could arise from the correlation between the divine and the earthly, the sacred and the profane: the gods seem comic when compared with us [1101b, 20]. Thus he:

1) founded the theology of laughter and

2) anticipated the explanation of specific, carnival laughter that was given by the outstanding Russian thinker of the XX ct. M. Bakhtin [2]. In addition, Aristotle suggested to us

3) the principle of explaining the laughter practices that have in their core de-sacralization of the pseudo-sacred values. The latter are the official values of the states whose totalitarian (or authoritarian) ideology incorporates elements of sacralization [6, s. 7, 49, 56, 59].

H. Spenser (1820-1903) also had in mind quite definite laughter practices when he wrote that humor can be explained by the descending incongruity. Here the descending is seen as the transition from the sublime to the low or even obscene [13]. The mechanism of such descending is clearly seen in the following anecdote: The majority of women think that the way to a man's heart is via his stomach, but they are wrong: this way goes much lower.

D. Monro not just singled out the basic theories of laughter. As Barbara Maier points out, Monro has also systematized the kinds of humorous incongruities:

1) any breach of the usual order of events (deviation),

2) importing into one situation what belongs to another (context deviation, metaphor),

3) anything masquerading as something it is not (hypocrisy, pretense, trick, etc.),

4) word play, puns (ambiguity, grammatical deviation, etc.),

5) nonsense,

6) forbidden breach (value deviation, deviation from rule, etc.),

7) novelty, freshness, unexpectedness, escape (deviation from usual, defeated expectation, surprise, escape) [16].

One of the contemporary variants of Incongruity Theory is Victor Raskin's Script-based Semantic Theory of Humor [21]. The author proposed linguistic approach to concretization of the comic incongruity phenomenon. It means the situation where the same words or semantically close expressions are used in different semantic context (scripts). Laughter appears because of the abrupt switching from the primary understanding to a different or even opposite one. As an example, Raskin gives the following anecdote: patient asks if the doctor is at home. The doctor's young and pretty wife whispers He is not, come in [22].

The meaning of the cited switching is an example of one kind of invariants, described by R. Wiseman [25]. The latter, having studied a number of anecdotes, has defined four stable kinds of laughter incongruities:

1) someone trying to look clever and taking a pratfall;

2) a marriage is devoid of love;

3) doctors being insensitive about imminent death;

4) God makes a mistake [10]. Perhaps, these invariants can suggest the algorithms of the switching of the scripts, and thus their usage can specify some points of V. Raskin's theory.

We see the whole history of Incongruity Theory as a series of successful attempts to find the laws of certain specific incongruities, which can cause laughter. That is why to criticize this theory as a whole, is to oppose a non-existent theory. Besides:

1) all the described practices oflncongruity also need specifying;

2) there is a limit of formalization of the laughter incongruities, because laughter is not rational only, but also emotional state, it is based not only on the logical understanding of some contrast, but also includes unconscious and often unpredictable human reaction.

Moreover, we even do not mention the limits of human cognition as a whole.

The Post-positivist methodology is one more approach that opens new horizons for the philosophy of laughter. For instance, in this context the Post-positivist concept of the principle of incompleteness has great value. In accordance with it, not a single theory can be seen as complete. Using the theorem of K.F. Godel, we can say that a theory of laughter can be either contradictory but incomplete, or it can embrace practically all the laughter practices but suffer from the numerous inner contradictions. The incompleteness of a theory is the normal state of things in the cognition process. T. Kuhn writes: it is just the incompleteness and imperfection of the existing data-theory fit that, at any time, define many of the puzzles that characterize normal science [15, p. 146]. That is why overcoming the incompleteness of any laughter theory should not be seen as a task that can be completely solved. In addition, the incompleteness of a theory cannot be sees as a sign of its inadequacy. At the same time, the incompleteness insinuation is widely used in the laughter discourse. For example, B. Maier states ...theorists tend to present only a few categories and ignore the rest. Or a category would be presented solely from the perspective of a single metaphysics or philosophy [16]. postmodernism rizom philosophy laughter

Various laughter theories cannot be evaluated as comparatively more or less successful, if they study different aspects of the comical. For example, Incongruity Theory reveals one of the ontological aspects of laughter, but it does not exhaust this ontology. Superiority Theory explicates those sides of the comical that reflect the compensation of contrasts in social, intellectual and moral statuses of different persons. However, Superiority Theory ignores the ambivalent nature of laughter that can imply either the heightening of protagonist's status, or their fiasco. R. Solomon studied this latter aspect of laughter, and as a result he proposed Inferiority Theory [24]. The next logical step would be combining Superiority Theory and Inferiority Theory. T. Cohen [12] did exactly this. The resulting ambivalent Superiority-Inferiority Theory would benefit from dialogue with representatives of Relief Theory, who study mechanism and factors of the laughter catharsis, and with those philosophers who study the ontology of laughter.

The next conception, instrumental for development of the philosophy of laughter is the Post-positivist principle of inexhaustibility of theory. While criticizing Superiority Theory, Francis Hutcheson in his Reflections Upon Laughter stated that sufferings of a character would sooner make recipient pity them, then to laugh at the misfortunes [14]. However, this objection cannot be seen as crucial, because it does not negate Superiority Theory, only shows the need to specify it. Really, sympathy and ridicule are incompatible. Bergson in his book Laugh writes about it: I would point out... the Absence of Feeling which usually accompanies humor... Indifference is its natural environment, for humor has no greater foe than emotion. ...the comic demands something like a momentary anesthesia of the heart. Its appeal is to intelligence, pure and simple [11].

But if we can concretize Superiority Theory, retaining its essence and taking into account Bergson's condition, the objection to this theory becomes invalid. We should clarify that the subject of mockery is not a real person, but a character, an artistic image whose sufferings and humiliations cannot excite recipient's sympathy. Moreover, the viewer (or reader) sees real or seeming sufferings of the character as:

1) justly deserved and

2) not overly cruel measure of punishment.

Therefore, the author of comedy should observe the strict measure of the loser's suffering. These sufferings must not look excessive, and sometimes in the general context of the plot, they even can be seen as a means of reformation of the character. For instance, in the cult Soviet comedy by E. Riazanov The Irony of Fate, Ippolit does not excite our sympathy because of his overconfidence, paradoxally combined with pathological jealousy. Besides, the viewer sees how the failure in private life makes him better. Ippolit changes, he loses the mask of the self-satisfied bureaucrat, he rises above his difficult situation and thinks over its reason. Finally, he begins to understand what it means to love truly. And in this culmination moment of his soul growth, viewers stop laughing at him, because they begin to sympathize with him.

The principle of inexhaustibility can be used when a thinker just momentarily touches the theme of laughter, without using the main methodological potential of chosen philosophy. In this case, it is useful to reconstruct the thinker's views, if such a procedure would help to develop a laughter theory. For example, T. Hobbes's definition of the comical derives from his concept of war of all against all. However, speaking about laughter as a weapon of war, Hobbes forgets the other main principle of his own theory - the idea of the natural equality of people. If we take into consideration both theories, we can reconstruct the second part of the definition: laughter is such a weapon that partially restores the natural equality, compensating the inequality of social statuses. Such an explanation can be very constructive in some cases. For example, the British comic serial Jeeves and Wooster, based on the novels by P.G. Wodehouse, exhilarates the viewer by the fact that not the aristocrat, but his butler is presented as the real gentleman -tactful, refined, gallant, resourceful etc., while his master is more like a chattering servant.

Before the XVIII ct., philosophers seldom saw the problem of laughter as a central [8, p. 3], and that is why in their works we can find many similar ideas, that have not been fully developed by their authors and thus need our reconstruction.

We conclude that further development of the philosophy of laughter can't be restricted only to the inner discourse within the limits of this subject domain of philosophy. We agree with Adrian Bardon that philosophy should become a kind of incubator for creating the laughter theory [10]. And we want to stress that it can become such a thing only as the integral philosophy, developing on the basis of interdisciplinary connections and using methodology of different philosophical theories, including those that do not deal with the problem of laughter directly.


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