Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Philosophy/Neuroscience, and Psychology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



The hypothesis guiding this dissertation is that attention to the psychology of comic judgment intimates important lessons for the philosophy of humor and for the cognitive science of evaluative judgment. While classical theories try to explain the essence of humor in a way that is grand and unified, the empirical evidence supports pluralism: humor is not obviously “one thing.” At the same time, while humor has traditionally been studied in isolation, the empirical record suggests that comic judgment is best understood as a kind of evaluative judgment. Comic pluralism implies that housing mirth requires attention to the philosophy and cognitive science of evaluative judgment broadly construed.

The dissertation is organized into three parts. Part I evaluates the question of what humor is, which has traditionally unified humor studies. Chapter one (Varieties of Incongruity) argues against essentialist approaches to answering it. Chapter two (The Comic Stance) argues for a psychological approach to humor informed by intentional systems theory. Part II of the dissertation provides complementary accounts of comic properties (Funny Properties), and of the semantics of comic terms (That’s Not Funny!). I suggest, in each case, that the accounts might be re-deployed to inform philosophical approaches to evaluative properties, and to the semantics of evaluative terms, more generally.

Part III transitions to engage questions about the theoretical and methodological perspective required for scientific investigations of humor. Chapter five critically surveys the psychobiological, developmental, and social cognitive literatures related to humor and laughter, and generates an associated list of questions that a theory of humor ought to be able to answer (Laughing Animals). Finally, the dissertation concludes with an elaboration of my own theory of humor (The Dismissal Theory of Humor), and a brief coda on possible avenues for future research on the neural mechanisms that underwrite it (Coda: On the Mechanisms of Amusement).


English (en)

Chair and Committee

John M Doris

Committee Members

Eric Brown, Dan Haybron, John Heil, Joshua Jackson, Ron Mallon


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