|A.N. Whitehead: note the smile|
I'm looking into the philosophical value of laughter: as the only sane response to our own fallibility and smallness. A sample:
There is something very knowing in this laughter; something profoundly human. It is not spiteful mockery, though this too is part of what we are. It is, instead, a recognition of our imperfection: how easily and quickly our commonsense ideas and acts are undone by the world, including its babies. It is the buoyant equivalent of a sigh or shrug: a gesture at how rudely great and darkly wise we are.
Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, a reverent man if not a mainstream Christian, once remarked that he was suspicious of religious people with no sense of humour. In his book Science and the Modern World he elaborated:
Is it that nothing, no experience good or bad, no belief, no cause, is, in itself, momentous enough to monopolise the whole of life to the exclusion of laughter? Laughter is our reminder that our theories are an attempt to make existence intelligible, but necessarily only an attempt, and does not the irrational, the instinctive burst in to keep the balance true by laughter?'
His point was not that we can laugh at every grief; that we ought to trivialise others' misery. Instead, Whitehead was noting something vitally important for anyone who reflects, and behaves thoughtfully: there is always more than we know, and more than we are. It is an expression of scepticism, fallibility and finitude: the recognition that we are limited, situated creatures.