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Paul Gricean

In: Philosophy and Psychology

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It’s a Matter of Humor and Laughter
Ethics and Psychology of Humor in Popular Culture
June 26, 2014
Instructor Marcy Goodfleish

Have you ever heard of the phrase “Laughter is the best medicine?” Well believe it or not laughter and humor have helped people all around the world to get through some of the hardest times of their lives. Famous scholar Herbert Paul Grice born March 15, 1913 and died August 28, 1988 ( felt that humor is expressed through five rules that can either be broken and upheld in order to converse with one another in a way that’s understandable. In this analysis of Grice’s rules of conversation the five rules will be broken down and interpreted to compare and contrasts his idea of what humor and laughter are and how they relate to the theories of humor in philosophy and the psychology of humor. Rule one of Grice’s theory states “Do not say what you believe to be false” (Morreall 2009. Page 2). What can be taken from this phrase is that if you know something to be untrue or you lack the evidence necessary to prove your statement, do not say it at all just keep it to yourself. This is considered a lie whenever this rule of conversation is put into place. “Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence”(Morreall 2009. Page 2), this phrase falls in the same category as the one before lying is unacceptable when acknowledging Grice’s conversational rules. As the two relate to theories in humor the superiority theory takes over, reason being for example if the comment is made “Your mama’s so fat she has her own state”, this phrase lacks the evidence to prove that this particular mother actually is big enough to possess her own state. Now, on the other hand this rule can also be broken to create humor that’s exaggerated rashly like the example given above. The incongruity theory can also go into effect for the reason that if you think about it envisioning a woman as big as a state would be something very unexpected and unorthodox and may result in an incongruent form of humor. When humor is intended to be out of the ordinary or exaggerated this is the only instance for which rule one can be broken. In the third rule of Grice’s maxims as he refers to them it states “Avoid obscurity of expression” which means to make sure that the information you are giving is relevant. For example, If your spouse asks "How was your day?" and you say "I hate tomatoes" - you are not playing by the rules... you are expected to make a contribution that is somewhat related to the topic at hand ( The rule that follows states “Avoid ambiguity or uncertainness”; this means to know what you’re talking about and be confident in your presentation of that information. In relation to the theories on humor it would fall under the incongruity theory, reason being because in the example above if someone would respond back that they hate tomatoes it would catch you off guard causing you to laugh instead when the expectation was something a little more to the point. The incongruity theory is based on the fact that human experience works with learned patterns (Morreall 2009. Page 10), meaning that we learn to expect certain things and when those things are misinterpreted it forms a break in Grice’s rules of conversation. The last rule on conversation says to simply be brief, say what you mean and mean what you say. Get to the point, don’t beat around the bush, and put what you say in the clearest, briefest, and most orderly manner ( It’s important to not give more information than what is required because then the listener gets either bored with the information or lost and does not comprehend the point that is trying to be given. In humor that’s a very vital aspect and would relate to the relief theory, reason being that the relief theory focuses on built up tension or energy and if someone is so tensed up with anticipation of what’s to come they lose interest if a joke is not to the point and precise. In conclusion humor and laughter can be confusing when not interpreted in the correct context and associated with the appropriate rule or theory. It’s important to be careful when expressing humor to others because it’s easily misconstrued to the point where it’s no longer considered funny. Paul Grice felt that humor should be interpreted in the correct manner which is part of why he came up with the rules for conversation because without them this world would be lost.

Grice’s Cooperative Principle. (2005). Retrieved from
Morreall, J. (2009). Comic Relief: A comprehensive Philosophy of Humor. Malden, MA. Wiley-Blackwell
Philosophy of Humor. (2012). Retrieved from
Martin, R.A. (2007). The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach. Burlington, MA. Elsevier Academic Press.
What are the basic rules people exploit when lying? (2014). Retrieved from

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