February 24, 2005
Laughter: Sudden Glory at the Misfortune of Others
The vainglory which consisteth in the feigning or supposing of abilities in ourselves, which we know are not, is most incident to young men, and nourished by the histories or fictions of gallant persons; and is corrected oftentimes by age and employment.
Sudden glory is the passion which maketh those grimaces called laughter; and is caused either by some sudden act of their own that pleaseth them; or by the apprehension of some deformed thing in another, by comparison whereof they suddenly applaud themselves. And it is incident most to them that are conscious of the fewest abilities in themselves; who are forced to keep themselves in their own favour by observing the imperfections of other men. And therefore much laughter at the defects of others is a sign of pusillanimity. For of great minds one of the proper works is to help and free others from scorn, and compare themselves only with the most able.
-- Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan (1651), Chapter VI: OF THE INTERIOR BEGINNINGS OF VOLUNTARY MOTIONS, COMMONLY CALLED THE PASSIONS; AND THE SPEECHES BY WHICH THEY ARE EXPRESSED