Virtue of the Week: Humor

HumorGod’s Sense of Humor

On the first day, God created the dog and said, “Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this I will give you a life span of twenty years.” The dog said, “That’s a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I’ll give you back the other ten?” And God said that it was good. On the second day, God created the monkey and said, “Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I’ll give you a twenty-year life span.” The monkey said, “Monkey tricks for twenty years? That’s a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the dog did?” And God again said that it was good. On the third day, God created the cow and said, “You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer’s family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years.” The cow said, “That’s kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I’ll give back the other forty?” And God agreed it was good. On the fourth day, God created humans and said, “Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I’ll give you twenty years.” But the human said, “Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?” “Okay,” said God, “You asked for it.” So that is why for our first twenty years, we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next forty years, we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next ten years, we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years, we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.


A woman awakes during the night to find that her husband was not in bed. She puts on her robe and goes downstairs to look for him. She finds him sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, and he appears to be in deep thought, just staring at the wall. She watches as he wipes a tear from his eye and takes a sip of coffee. What’s the matter dear?, she whispers as she steps into the room. Why are you sitting down here this time of the night? The husband looks up from his coffee, Do you remember 20 years ago when we were dating, and you were only 16? he asks solemnly. Yes, I do she replies. The husband paused, the words were not coming easily. Do you remember when your father caught us in the back seat of my car making love? Yes I remember, said the wife, lowering herself into a chair beside him. The husband continued. Do you remember when he shoved the double barrel shotgun in my face and said, “Either you marry my daughter, or I’ll send you to jail for 20 years.” Yes I remember that too. She whispered softly. He wiped another tear from his cheek and said, “I would be getting out today”!

Good Boy!

A baker is tending to his shop when a dog walks in, puts 5 pieces of bread in a bag and approaches him and hands him a $10 bill. The baker is amazed and the dog barks for his change. The baker is even more amazed so he gives the dog his change and the dog puts $1 in the tip jar. the baker can’t believe it so he follows the dog home. The dog walks into an apartment building and presses the elevator button. The baker gets into the elevator with him and the dog pushes the 8th floor button. When they get there, the dog walks down the hall to door number 807 and rings the doorbell. A man opens the door, and angrily grabs the bread and hits the dog with a newspaper… The baker yells out: “Sir, wait a second! Your dog is amazing! He came to my bakery, picked up 5 pieces of bread, paid for them, asked for his change, tipped, walked home by himself, took the elevator and rang the doorbell! Why on earth do you scold him!?” The man replies: “Dude, it’s the fourth time this week he’s forgot his damn key!”

Humor as a Virtue

Is a sense of humor a virtue? In an informal sense of the term ‘virtue’, of course it is. A sense of humor is a trait nobody wants to be thought of as lacking, and one that we value in partners, friends and colleagues alike. Aristotle claims that pleasure is an index of the virtues: that is, what I take pleasure in is an index of my character. The idea of a sense of humor as a virtue has its roots in Aristotle. In a short, often overlooked section of book IV of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle recognizes wit as a moral virtue, but chiefly because “one part of life is relaxation, and one aspect of this is entertaining conversation” According to Aristotle, a virtue is a hexis ([habitual] disposition). Moreover, it is “the disposition that makes one a good man and causes him to perform his function well”. Aristotle defines a virtue as aiming to hit the mean between excess and deficiency. Moral virtue, he claims, “is concerned with feelings and actions” such as “fear, confidence, desire, anger, pity, and pleasure and pain generally”. Any of these, he continues, can be felt too much or too little. “But to have these feelings at the right times on the right grounds towards the right people for the right motive and in the right way is to feel them to an intermediate, that is to the best, degree; and this is the mark of virtue”. Excess and deficiency are here represented by the buffoon and the boor respectively. Buffoons are those “who go too far in being funny”: they are “vulgar persons who exert themselves to be funny at all costs, and who are more set upon raising a laugh than upon decency of expression and consideration for their victim’s feelings”. On the other hand, “those who both refuse to say anything funny themselves and take exception to the jokes of other people are regarded as boorish and sour”. As usual, Aristotle wants us to hit the mean: “those who exercise their humor with good taste are called witty [eutrapelos], as one might say ‘nimble-witted’”. Aristotle’s discussion places these qualities in the context of entertaining conversation of the kind befitting the Athenian nobleman. So he objects to the buffoon, for instance, because he says “things that a man of taste would never dream of saying, and some that he would not it is.” Exposure to a virtuous sense of humor and the corresponding ‘moral vision’ of which it is a part – can be a useful tool in moral education. This supports a general claim of Aristotle’s: that moral character is developed via habituation.

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