This article takes as its starting point the shared histories and attitudes toward the arts of rhetoric and humor. Both arts face the daunting task of defending their status in the serious realm of public life against attacks that trivialize and vilify their practices. Following the work of Richard Lanham, this article explores a familiar weak defense for humor that ultimately leaves humor without a strong foundation on which to contribute seriously to public life. It then offers a strong defense of humor that celebrates the art's motivational complexity, its purposeful contributions to the socio-political sphere, and its emphasis on a world of indeterminacy that is always ripe for new constructions. Ultimately, this article presents this defense of humor to imagine a richer understanding of a sense of humor, not as a light-hearted personality trait but as a set of skills and sensibilities essential to civic life.

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