Humour VSI

“Humour, where successful, creates communities of laughter“

Humour VSI, p. 85

Wrong Title

In Germany, some toilets have a sign that says: Please leave the toilet as you wish to find it. Meaning you should remove all evidence of your business. Some people apply the same mentality to books: No evidence should be left that the book was used. No bending. No marks. No notes.

I have a different view (regarding books, not toilets). I believe reading books means having a conversation and you are allowed to leave replies in a book, and mark passages. For Humour - A Very Short Introduction, I even felt obliged to leave my marks on the title. I corrected it to: Philosophy of Humour - A Very Short Introduction. If I had known that it‘s about the philosophy of humour, and not about any other aspect of humour, I am not sure if I had read it. Well, here we are, and here are my notes.

The book has three main chapters. One about (philosophical) theories of humour, one about emotion and one about humour and value.


The incongruity theory is the most accepted theory of humour. It says that the main ingredient to comic amusement is a deviation from a norm or logic. The author takes a lot of pages to also present and refute other theories of humour.


The author lost me on lengthy discussions whether comic amusement is an emotion or not. Especially since we only get the philosophical view on the topic. This chapter could have been so much more interesting if other perspective would have been included. What do biologists have to say about humour? Psychologists? Neuroscientists? Can we detect activity in certain brain areas when people see something funny? You will never find out by reading this chapter.


Humour serves many functions. It can be used to relieve stress, to promote amity among strangers, to dissipate tension within a fractious group, to display intelligence, to castigate injustice, and so forth.

Humour VSI, p. 76

What an opening to the third and final chapter! This certainly got me hooked. I wish the author would have actually gotten to more of those points, but the chapter was mostly about shared norms and the morality of making jokes about minorities.


It took me a while to pinpoint why I felt disappointed by this introduction to humour. I firmly believe that humour is a highly underestimated skill, especially in professional settings. My hope was to gain a better understanding about humour by reading this short introduction. But this introduction was very much focused on the philosophy of humour, leaving out many interesting perspectives from other fields. I am wondering about cultural differences of humour, or how humour changed over time. At what age do we understand humour, and what type of humour? What is the biology of laughter? Are there animals that understand humour? The Very Short Introductions are — by design — very short. So there is a challenge to deliver more views on a topic. But other VSIs manage to deliver many perspectives on a topic. A good example is the Consciousness VSI, which goes beyond a mere philosophical view of consciousness and integrates psychology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, evolution and more.