Year of Publication


Season of Publication


Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Practical Philosophy and Applied Ethics (MA)



NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Philosophy

First Advisor

Dr. Hans-Herbert Koegler

Second Advisor

Dr. Mitchell Haney

Department Chair

Dr. Mitchell Haney

College Dean

Dr. Barbara A. Hetrick


In this thesis I examine various theories of humor to establish an account of the functional roles of humor in social interaction and agentive development. These roles are integrated into a view of agency developed by G.H. Mead, and further refined by the recognition theory of Axel Honneth. The core thesis is: Humor is under-examined as an aspect of human interaction, because it plays such an integral role in individual agency and social development. Understanding how humor works helps to explain how agents are formed through the internalization of the expectations of others via processes of recognition, either positively or negatively. Through the explication of the core humor theories—superiority, relief, incongruity, and play—insight is offered into the various processes of basic human interaction, understanding, and identity.

The work has theoretical application by proving Mead's and Honneth's emphasis on recognition for development is justified, while also correcting an overly positive view of recognition by outlining the social policing function of humor. But the thesis has also obvious practical value in day to day human interaction, as it shows that humor is able to address issues that are very difficult through other modes of communication and understanding. Humor’s role in agentive interaction and formation cannot be overstated, both as a mode of expression and coping, but also since the threat of embarrassment through ridicule underpins and motivates a great deal of human interaction. The negative ethical implications of the role of humor, which are often overlooked, are extensively outlined and developed through the conceptual frameworks of social power (punching-up and punching down) as well as act-centered vs. agent-centered views of discriminatory humor. The thesis offers and analyzes ready examples from the work of Chris Rock and Bill Cosby, and looks at the implications of each through the theoretical lenses fleshed out in previous chapters. Through this it is clearly demonstrated, not only how these theories interconnect, but as well how such knowledge is of obvious, and practical value in day-to-day human interaction.