Humour is a Funny Thing

British Journal of Aesthetics 56 (4):355-366 (2016)
Alan Roberts
University of Sussex
This paper considers the question of how immoral elements in instances of humour affect funniness. Comic ethicism is the position that each immoral element negatively affects funniness and if their cumulative effect is sufficient, then funniness is eliminated. I focus on Berys Gaut’s central argument in favour of comic ethicism; the merited response argument. In this journal, Noël Carroll has criticized the merited response argument as illegitimately conflating comic merit with moral merit. I argue that the merited response argument, and hence comic ethicism more generally, is vulnerable to Carroll’s criticism only if the comic ethicist fails to distinguish between three closely-related but distinct concepts; humour, amusement and funniness. By providing separate accounts of these three concepts, I explain how Carroll’s criticism is unsuccessful. In summary, accepting my distinctions between humour, amusement and funniness makes it clear that comic ethicism is the right position.
Keywords Humour  Aesthetics  Ethics  Ethicism  Merited Response Argument  Aesthetic Concepts
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DOI 10.1093/aesthj/ayw046
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