Monro, D. H. “Theories of Humor.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum 3rd ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen, eds. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1988. 349-55.
D[avid] H[ector] Monro (1911-2001 ), professor of philosophy at Monash University, Victoria, Australia, wrote The Argument of Laughter and Godwin’s Moral Philosophy. The following piece appeared in Collier’s Encyclopedia.
Humor is a term which may be used in both a wide and a narrow sense. In the wider sense, it is applied to all literature and to all informal speech or writing in which the object is to amuse, or rouse laughter in, the reader or hearer. In its narrower sense, humor is distinguished from wit, satire, and farce. It is less intellectual and more imaginative than wit, being concerned more with character and situation than with plays upon words or upon ideas; more sympathetic and less cruel than satire; more subtle than farce. On the other side, it shades into fancy and imagination, since it is concerned, as they are, with exploring the possibilities of unlikely situations or combinations of ideas, but differs from them in being concerned only with the laughable aspects of these imagined situations.
But what exactly is it about a situation that makes it laughable? We all know that some things do make us laugh; but it is very hard to say just what it is that these laughable things have in common. Theories of humor (in the wider sense) are attempts to solve this problem. They may be divided into three main types: superiority theories, incongruity theories, and relief theories. A fourth type of theory, which takes the central feature of humor to be ambivalence, a mingling of attraction and repulsion, is of minor importance.