Yesterday I was at the `Night of Philosophy` in Felix Meritis in Amsterdam. From
that evening I took two observations home. First Peter van der Geer, made a
remark on the relation between debate and dialogue. Earlier on I wrote on debate and dialogue as opposites. He said that debate is a precursor, not an opposite, for dialogue. You have to switch to dialogue as soon as the debate has come upon questions that cannot be answered by debating them. Then the debaters have to engage in dialogue together to be able to move forward.

Simon Critchley

Second, I listened to an interview with British philosopher Simon Critchley (see profile at Essex
talking about his 2002 book on humour. (see On Humour)
There are historically three theories of humour:
  • The superiority-theory, as in where someone slips on a banana peel and
    surrounding bystanders laugh at the unhappy soul. This is I think an act of
    creating a sensis communis by excluding others. Defining a group by saying who is not part of it.
  • The relief-theory, where humour is used to relief emotions or tension, like
    making a light joke during stressful moments, e.g. when hiding in a Baghdad air
    raid shelter.
  • The incongruity-theory. In this last instance humour is used to put things
    upside down, to brake through patterns. It remembers me of Wittgensteins
    language-games where words take on different meanings in different

    Now according to Simon Critchley using the last form of humour is at its root a philosophical act. This because it involves reflection upon the self, the other and the world. He cited self-ridicule as an example of this. I would say, self ridicule could also be a form of self-directed superiority humour. Which, as Critchley added, can also be a means of establishing your authority: I am so powerfull that I can make jokes about myself. In the incongruity variety self ridicule shows that you feel comfortable enough to show weaknesses or be more vulnerable. But these are of course two sides of the same coin, as they mainly differ in nuance and intention.

    After the interview we talked a few minutes about humour and knowledge management. Having fun and laughing is said to be useful for enhancing creativity, and facilitating the correct atmosphere for dialogue, by KM pros. Would humour in this case be a facilitator, a catalyst, or also a method in itself?

    First off, humour helps bring forward the informal structures in more formal settings. Self ridicule as said above can help bringing down authority and hierarchical structures. Also the relief kind can help solve tense situations in discussions and debates (as a step up to dialogue?). But the incongruity type of humour is also an expression of creativity itself. It takes creativity after all to put a situation in a different light. And that is what the desired effect of creativity is: looking at situations from another angle, in another context, in order to discover new and alternative roads forward. It’s the need to jump ahead, when evolutionary progress is exhausted. Irrationality as a means to help rationality forward. It’s the classic boundary that scientific progress encounters and has to overcome time and again.

  • One reaction on “Debate, dialogue and humour

    1. Nacht van de filosofie

      In het kennismanagement weblog schreef ik op 6 april het volgende:[Ton’s Interdependent Thoughts]Yesterday I was at the `Night of Philosophy` in Felix Meritis in Amsterdam. From that evening I took two observations home.First Peter van der Geer, made a…

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