The Ontic-Epistemic Theory of the Comic

In philosophy, ontic (from the Greek ὄν, genitive ὄντος: “of that which is”) is physical, real, or factual

Epistemology  (from Greek ἐπιστήμη (epistēmē), meaning “knowledge, understanding”, and λόγος (logos), meaning “study of”) is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge wiki.

On the Problem of the Comic

A philosophical study on the Origins of Laughter

Peter Marteinson

I’m finding it difficult to obtain a copy of this book but the British library stocks humour journal which has a feature on it so I have ordered that. What i gather from other sources (1) (2) (3)is that this theory of humour fits in very closely with the absurd. It really centres around how we perceive the world and how our perception changes it and creates a reality  that is filtered through our beliefs, morals and turns something that is very inhuman into something human. Mateinson argues that the comic arises when we momentarily see the truth that social being and material fact are not the same. Our perception separates into different  ontic meanings without any cultural/social meanings attached and we perceive a ‘falsehood’ the physical world in its cultural poverty is all that is left standing in perception. Laughter   serves to restore normal socio-cognitive perception and to facilitate the forgetting of the comic stimulus.(1)

‘Perception is very nearly always directed and shaped by social considerations, yet it would be impossible even to believe in cultural values, or to live in a society based upon them, if it were obvious to everyone that such socio-cultural institutions were merely arbitrary constructs first dreamt up and later passed down and acculturated into each new generation, without really being there at all. Normal human social cognition thus also serves, as one of its most fundamental and crucial functions, to erase the distinction between the different types of entity that we collectively consider ‘true’ or ‘real.’ The physical object must never appear more credible than, or even distinct from, the mental one. A man’s social status must not seem any less real than his body, and when we mentally associate concepts of status with an actual person we see, for instance, in a policeman’s blue uniform, we must not view this as a disguise, because the social state of being a true officer of the law, a mere mental object, must be inseparable, and indistinguishable, from the individual policeman himself, a real biological organism.’ (1)


(1) (2)

Marteinson’s book has a chapter on the absurd which is one reason I am so keen to get hold of a copy, but it is clear to see how it fits in with Camus, Nagel and Veatch’s theory of affective absurdity. Each instance of comedy can be seen as an absurd realisation, Veatch would say the pleasure arises from seeing the ‘real’ and the ‘false’ simultaneously whereas Marteinson suggests it is relief that we are rewarded for. Nagel suggests we deal with the absurd by going back to our lives with a knowing sense of irony. There is always a schism between one thing and another, two things that are normally not realised together. Somewhere there lurks the absurd, a cold dark truth that humanity seems to have evolved systems of belief and control to try and hide.



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