Irony, Disruption and Moral Imperfection

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 23 (3):545-559 (2020)
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Abstract

Irony has a suspicious moral reputation, especially in popular media and internet culture. Jonathan Lear (2011) introduces a proposal which challenges this suspicion and identifies irony as a means to achieve human excellence. For Lear, irony is a disruptive uncanniness which arises from a gap between aspiration and actualisation in our practical identity. According to Lear, such a disruptive experience of ironic uncanniness reorients us toward excellence, because it passionately propels us to really live up to that practical identity. However, Lear’s understanding of irony is idiosyncratic and his proposal overlooks that disruption often results from value incompatibility between different practical identities. The disruption which follows from value incompatibility does not inherently reorient us toward excellence. The point is exactly that achieving excellence in one practical identity is sometimes incompatible with excellence in the other. Pace Lear, I do not identify this disruptive experience as a central example of irony. Instead, I consider irony a virtuous coping strategy for such disruption, because it introduces the necessary distance from our moral imperfection to sustain practical deliberation and maintain good mental health. Such virtuous irony negotiates a golden mean between too little disruption (complete insensitivity toward one’s imperfection) and too much disruption (a complete breakdown of practical deliberation and mental health). I argue that ironic media in popular culture provide a rich source of such virtuous irony, which I demonstrate through analysis of satirical examples.

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Citations of this work

Existential Aesthetics.Hans Maes - 2022 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 80.

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References found in this work

Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity.Richard Rorty - 1989 - The Personalist Forum 5 (2):149-152.
The mess inside: narrative, emotion, and the mind.Peter Goldie - 2012 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ruling Passions.Simon Blackburn - 1998 - Philosophy 75 (293):454-458.
Meaning and relevance.Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber - 2012 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Dan Sperber.

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