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Heard the one about the three theories of humour? Jokes are about humiliation, the release of inhibitions, or absurdity. The end of the world itself has the logical form of a joke. Geddit?

By Jim Holt   October 2008

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Hobbes, Freud, and Kant walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Hey, which of you guys can tell me why humans laugh?”

Let me back up a bit. There are three classic theories of humour. The “superiority” theory—that’s Hobbes (also Plato, Bergson)—locates the essence of humour in the “sudden glory” we feel at the humiliation of others. It suits jokes about cuckolds, racist jokes and put-downs, like:

Angry guy walks into a bar, says to the bartender, “All agents are assholes.”

The guy sitting at the end of…

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