Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgement.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgement. Trans. James Creed Mered. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Publishing, 2007.

In Kant’s account, humour, or laughter as he has it, is conceived as a form of pleasure that is entertaining and lively, but that is without consequence or intention (208). For Kant, humour is a gratifying and enjoyable bodily sensation produced by an “oscillation” of the mind, “inner motion” and body, but with little wider philosophical importance (208-10).

Kant argues that humour, because it is an aesthetic characteristic, is without intention or effect beyond aesthetic pleasure. Thus humour, or laughter as he would have it, does not arise out of social relations but rather, “is an affect resulting from the sudden transformation of a heightened expectation into nothing.”


“Something absurd (something in which, therefore, the understanding can of itself find no delight) must be present in whatever is to raise a healthy convulsive laugh. Laughter is an affect arising from a strained expectation being suddenly reduced to nothing. This very reduction, at which certainly understanding cannot rejoice, is still indirectly a source of very lively enjoyment for a moment. Its cause must consequently lie in the influence of the representation upon the body, and the reciprocal effect of this upon the mind. This, moreover, cannot depend upon the representation being objectively an object of gratification, (for how can we derive gratification from a disappointment?) but must rest solely upon the fact that that reduction is a mere play of representations, and, as such, produces an equilibrium of the vital forces of the body.” (209)

“It is noteworthy that in all such cases the joke must have something in it capable of momentarily deceiving us. Hence, when the semblance vanishes into nothing, the mind looks back in order to try it over again, and thus by a rapidly succeeding tension and relaxation it is thrown to and fro and put into oscillation. Since the snapping of what was, as it were, tightening up the string takes place suddenly (not by a gradual loosening), the oscillation must bring about a mental movement and a sympathetic internal movement of the body.” (210)

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