Tripos "Laughter Is Nothing Else But Sudden Glory"

Thomas Hobbes

"Laughter Is Nothing Else But Sudden Glory"

Context: Thomas Hobbes was a philosopher and political scientist, whose best known work, Leviathan, is an analysis of government; it is a strongly materialistic interpretation of political institutions. To Hobbes, man is by nature equal, and selfseeking; competition is basic to him. Every man is the natural enemy of every other: therefore, governments are formed that order may be ensured. In the process, every individual contracts with all other individuals, each giving up his rights to the governing person or body. This sacrifice is made in order to achieve survival, security, and happiness for each individual. The contract is a mutual one among the governed, not between subject and ruler. Thus, to Hobbes, the right of the state or of the sovereign is absolute. He believes also in the separation of church and state: the laws of God are internal, those of man are external, and the two do not conflict. To resist one's government is to sin against the laws of God, since these are the laws of nature. Hobbes' metaphysics also reflects his materialism; he considers the entire universe matter, and things of the spirit, including God, are also matter but somewhat less substantial. His system is actually one of mechanics or physics. Hobbes also explored psychology, concluding that all so-called voluntary actions have necessary causes and are therefore both involuntary and inevitable. Tripos is a group of his three most important works on this subject; each is a discourse on certain areas of human psychology and motivation. The first takes up the nature of man; the second examines law and the body politic; and the third explores the relationship between freedom and necessity. In the first essay, Human Nature, Hobbes begins with a discussion of the senses, the reasoning process, and the passions. Laughter, representative of a passion which has no name, is subjected to a penetrating analysis:

. . . Men laugh often, especially such as are greedy of applause from every thing they do well, at their own actions performed never so little beyond their own expectations; as also at their own jests: and in this case it is manifest, that the passion of laughter proceedeth from a sudden conception of some ability in himself that laugheth. Also men laugh at the infirmities of others, by comparison wherewith their own abilities are set off and illustrated. Also men laugh at jests, the wit whereof always consisteth in the elegant discovering and conveying to our minds some absurdity of another: and in this case also the passion of laughter proceedeth from the sudden imagination of our own odds and eminency: for what is else the recommending of ourselves to our own good opinion, by comparison with another man's infirmity or absurdity? For when a jest is broken upon ourselves, or friends of whose dishonour we participate, we never laugh thereat. I may therefore conclude, that the passion of laughter is nothing else but sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or with our own formerly: for men laugh at the follies of themselves past, when they come suddenly to remembrance, except they bring with them any present dishonour. It is no wonder therefore that men take heinously to be laughed at or derided, that is, triumphed over. Laughter without offence, must be at absurdities and infirmities abstracted from persons, and when all the company may laugh together. . . .