Against the Moralistic Fallacy: A Modest Defense of a Modest Sentimentalism about Humor

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15 (1):83-94 (2012)
In a series of important papers, Justin D’Arms and Daniel Jacobson argue that all extant neo-sentimentalists are guilty of a conflation error that they call the moralistic fallacy. One commits the moralistic fallacy when one infers from the fact that it would be morally wrong to experience an affective attitude—e.g., it would be wrong to be amused—that the attitude does not fit its object—e.g., that it is not funny. Such inferences, they argue, conflate the appropriateness conditions of attitudinal responses with the fittingness conditions of the associated evaluative properties. Further, they argue that moral considerations are irrelevant for determining if amusement fits its object. We agree that a strong moralizing of humor is wrongheaded and that jokes can be quite funny even in cases where we have a compelling moral reason to not be amused. However, we argue that pace D’Arms and Jacobson moral considerations can be relevant for property ascription. On our view, in order for a joke to be funny, a properly sensitive agent must take herself to have a contributory reason to be amused, and in some cases that she lacks such a reason is best explained by appeal to moral considerations. We use this constraint as the basis of what we call our modest proposal for a modest sentimentalism
Keywords Humor  Amusement  Art and Morality  Sentimentalism  Jokes
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DOI 10.1007/s10677-011-9268-9
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Daniel Jacobson (1997). In Praise of Immoral Art. Philosophical Topics 25 (1):155-199.

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Aaron Smuts (2009). Do Moral Flaws Enhance Amusement? American Philosophical Quarterly 46 (2):151-163.
Daniel Jacobson (2000). The Moralistic Fallacy. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 61 (1):65-90.
Michael Slote (2011). Reply to Justin D'Arms and Lori Watson. Southern Journal of Philosophy 49 (s1):148-155.

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