Volume 24, Issue 1, Fall 2019
Cynic Philosophical Humor as Exposure of Incongruity
I examine several recent interpretations of Cynic philosophy. Next, I offer my own reading, which draws on Schopenhauer’s Incongruity Theory of Humor, Aristotle’s account of the emotions in the Rhetoric, and the work of Theodor Adorno. I argue that Cynic humor is the deliberate exposure of incongruities between what a thing or state of affairs is supposed to be (either by nature or according to tradition) and what it in fact is, as evidenced by its present manifestation to our sense-perception and thought. Finally, I interpret the significance of this new reading: the exposure of incongruity aims to elicit a response of righteous indignation at the failure of phenomena to live up to our reasonable expectations. Cynic humor redeems the value of ‘wrong life’ by rendering its wrongness palpable and thus intolerable, by availing itself of reason’s inability to withstand flagrant contradictions.