1. Introduction

From looking at literature of aesthetics and psychology, it can be seen that jokes have not received as much philosophical attention that they deserve in view of the part they can be seen to play in our mental life. Those who have touched on them, include Jean-Paul Richter, Theodor Vischer, Kuno Fischer and Theodor Lipps.

Freud begins by looking at past descriptions of what jokes are.

According to Lipps (1898) a joke is 'something comic which is entirely subjective', 'any conscious and successful evocation of what is comic whether the comic of observation or of situation'.

Fischer (1889) looked at jokes and their relation to caricatures, 'a joke is a judgment which produces a comic contrast; it has already played a silent part in caricature, but only in judgment does it attain its peculiar form and the free sphere of its unfolding'. So, whilst Lipps attributes the joke to the active behaviour of the subject, Fischer attributes it to its relation to its object.

Jean-Paul expresses jokes as the ability to find similarity between dissimilar things (and Vischer 1846- 57, agrees). Other ideas for defining jokes are 'a contrast of ideas', 'sense in nonsense', 'bewilderment and illumination'. Contrast between sense and nonsense is significant, as often in jokes what at one moment has seemed to us to have a meaning, we now see is completely meaningless. Heymans (1896) explains how the effect of a joke comes about through bewilderment being succeeded by illumination. Heymans illustrated this with the following example "a poor lottery agent boasted that the great Baron Rothschild had treated him quite as his equal - quite 'famillionairely'". The punch word of the joke appears incomprehensible - and at first 'bewilders' - but the comic effect is produced by illumination of the understanding of the word. Lipps suggests that this is them followed by a second stage of illumination - that the resolution of the whole thing is a meaningless word, produces the comic effect.

Regardless of which one of these is correct, Freud argues that there are two more points to be made about jokes - that their brevity is significant, and that they must bring forward something that is concealed or hidden.

Freud aims to classify jokes on the basis of characteristics considered essential, rather than current technical methods (differentiating between puns and plays on words) and current methods based on the use made of them in speech (e.g. jokes for caricature, or snubbing).

Finally, Freud justifies the value of the study of jokes, arguing that there is a connection between all mental happenings so discoveries in this field, however remote will be of value in other fields. Furthermore, he cites the fascinating charm exercised by jokes in our society - why and how new jokes are passed from person to person.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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