Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor develops an inclusive theory that integrates psychological, aesthetic, and ethical issues relating to humor Offers an enlightening and accessible foray into the serious business of humor Reveals how standard theories of humor fail to explain its true nature and actually support traditional prejudices against humor as being antisocial, irrational, and foolish Argues that humor’s benefits overlap significantly with those of philosophy Includes a foreword by Robert Mankoff, Cartoon Editor of The New Yorker.
According to comic moralism, moral flaws make comic works less funny or not funny at all. In contrast, comic immoralism is the view that moral flaws make comic works funnier. In this article, I argue for a moderate version of comic immoralism. I claim that, sometimes, comic works are funny partly in virtue of their moral flaws. I argue for this claim—and artistic immoralism more generally—by identifying artistically valuable moral flaws in relevant actions undertaken in the creation of those works. (...) Underlying this argument is the idea that such generative actions are partly constitutive of a work's identity, and, therefore, they may affect the ethical value of an artwork either positively or negatively, and they are the proper objects of ethical appraisal. (shrink)
This book is the first attempt to think philosophically about the comic phenomenon in literature, art, and life. Working across a substantial collection of comic works author Agnes Heller makes seminal observations on the comic in the work of both classical and contemporary figures. Whether she's discussing Shakespeare, Kafka, Rabelais, or the paintings of Brueghel and Daumier Heller's Immortal Comedy makes a characteristic contribution to modern thought across the humanities.
A widely accepted view in the philosophy of humour is that immoral jokes, like racist, sexist or homophobic jokes, can nevertheless be funny. What remains controversial is whether the moral flaws in these jokes can sometimes increase their humour. Moderate comic immoralism claims that it is possible, in at least some cases, for moral flaws to increase the humour of jokes. Critics of moderate comic immoralism deny that this ever occurs. They recognise that some jokes are both funny and immoral, (...) yet they claim that it is always something other than the moral flaws of jokes that contribute to their humour. In a series of recent papers, Aaron Smuts has pressed this objection to moderate comic immoralism. I argue that Smuts' attempt to narrow the range of cases in which humour can be attributed to immoral features is not sufficient to demonstrate that moderate comic immoralism is false. Specifically, I claim that Smuts cannot rule out a case for moderate comic immoralism grounded in the possibility that humour is normatively relative while the ethical status of jokes is not. (shrink)
A common view holds that humor and morality are antithetical: Moral flaws enhance amusement, and moral virtues detract. I reject both of these claims. If we distinguish between merely outrageous jokes and immoral jokes, the problems with the common view become apparent. What we find is that genuine morals flaws tend to inhibit amusement. Further, by looking at satire, we can see that moral virtues sometimes enhance amusement. The position I defend is called symmetric comic moralism. It is widely regarded (...) as patently absurd. I hope to correct this mistake. (shrink)
We argue that the counterfactual representations of popular culture, like their religious cognates, are shaped by cognitive constraints that become visible when considered in aggregate. In particular, we argue that comic-book literature embodies core intuitions about sociality and its maintenance that are activated by the cognitive problem of living in large groups. This leads to four predictions: comic-book enforcers should be punitively prosocial, be quasi-omniscient, exhibit kin-signalling proxies and be minimally counterintuitive. We gauge these predictions against a large sample of (...) 19,877 characters that were derived from 72,611 comics using data scraping techniques. Our results corroborate the view that cognitive constraints exercise a selective effect on the transmission of popular culture. (shrink)
A great deal of the humor that we encounter is narrative in form. This is obviously the case with many, if not most, jokes. But humor also occurs in more expanded narrative frameworks, including plays, novels, films, short stories, TV programs, comic books, and so forth. The purpose of this paper is to explore the question of whether there are any plot structures—of magnitudes greater than that of the joke—that might be thought of as comic in virtue of their narrative (...) form. (shrink)
Comic moralism holds that some moral properties impact negatively on the funniness of certain items that possess them. Strong versions of the doctrine deem the impact to be devastating: the possession of such a property by one of these items ensures the item is not funny. Weak versions deem the impact merely damaging: any funniness one of the items possesses is diminished, but not destroyed, by its possession of the property. Various species of comic moralism hold, respectively, various moral properties (...) to impact negatively on funniness. For example, one species holds as much of the property “manifests attitudes that are morally wrong,” but other species hold as much of different moral properties. Comic moralism, or a species of it, can be unrestricted, or restricted, depending on whether it pertains to all the items that possess the negatively impacting moral property or properties, or to just a subset of these items. (shrink)
This article explores several views on the relation of humour, especially tendentious humour, to morality, including comic amoralism, comic ethicism, comic immoralism, and moderate comic moralism. The essay concludes by defending moderate comic moralism.
Comedy, from social ridicule to the unruly laughter of the carnival, provides effective tools for reinforcing social patterns of domination as well as weapons for emancipation. In Irony in the Age of Empire, Cynthia Willett asks: What could embody liberation better than laughter? Why do the oppressed laugh? What vision does the comic world prescribe? For Willett, the comic trumps standard liberal accounts of freedom by drawing attention to bodies, affects, and intimate relationships, topics which are usually neglected by political (...) philosophy. Willett's philosophical reflection on comedy issues a powerful challenge to standard conceptions of freedom by proposing a new kind of freedom that is unapologetically feminist, queer, and multiracial. This book provides a wide-ranging, original, thoughtful, and expansive discussion of citizenship, social manners, and political freedom in our world today. (shrink)
At Apology 33c Socrates explains that "some people enjoy … my company" because "they … enjoy hearing those questioned who think they are wise but are not." At Philebus 48a-50b he makes central to his account of the pleasure of laughing at comedy the exposé of the self-ignorance of those who presume themselves wise. Does the latter passage explain the pleasure of watching Socrates at work? I explore this by tracing the admixture of pain, the causes, and the "natural harmony" (...) that Socrates' general account of pleasure implies for laughing at comedy. These reflections precipitate an aporia about the moral effect of Socrates' elenchtic practice. I suggest a path through the aporia that keys from Socrates' notion of "human wisdom" and the distinctive structure Plato gives the dialogues. (shrink)
A modern form of narrative, comic books are used to communicate, discuss, and critique issues in business ethics and social issues in management. A description of comic books as a legitimate medium is followed by a discussion of the pedagogical uses of comic books and assessment techniques. The strengths of the pedagogy include crossing cultural barriers, understanding the complexity of individual decision-making and organizational influences, and the universality of dilemmas and values. We provide an initial source for educators on the (...) topics, comic books, plotlines, and other commentary for consideration of use in the classroom from high school to graduate business ethics and social issues in management courses. (shrink)
Anankastic conditionals are analyzed in terms of events conceived as sequences of snapshots – roughly, comics. Quantiﬁcation is applied not to worlds (sets of which are customarily identiﬁed with propositions) but to strings that record observations of actions. The account generalizes to other types of conditionals, sidestepping certain well-known problems that beset possible worlds treatments, such as logical omniscience and irrelevance. A reﬁnement for anankastic conditionals is considered, incorporating action relations.
So, on 22 July 1865, under the title ‘Philosophy and Punch’, did England's premier comic weekly greet the election of J. S. Mill as MP for Westminster. Mill held his seat for only one term, until the general election of 1868, when his Whig-Liberal colleague Robert Wellesley Grosvenor was re-elected, but Mill was replaced by the loser in 1865, the Conservative W. H. Smith, Jr., who, though he never went to sea, became the ruler of the Queen's navy. The reasons (...) for that reversal have engaged the attention of many, including Mill himself; I should like to introduce into the discussion material from an ignored source, the comic weeklies, which took a continued and close look at Mill's behaviour during his parliamentary years. While this evidence generally does not disconfirm earlier judgments—including my own— it does more than merely add to the induction. First, it shows how different political stances led journals to focus on different aspects of Mill's parliamentary career, and to adopt different rhetorical strategies in portraying him in picture and word. Second, it demonstrates how the hardening of party allegiances during the parliament of 1865–68, which accelerated in the preparatory campaigns for the general election of 1868, affected Mill adversely. Third, it suggests strongly that it was not his ‘crotchets’ or ‘whims’, especially women's suffrage and proportional representation, that damaged his chances for re-election, but his advocacy of causes unpopular with the majority of Liberals as well as with Conservatives. (shrink)
The 9/11 attacks in the USA had profound political consequences at both domestic and international levels. Specific and controversial policy developments were pursued requiring substantial legitimation to find acceptance. A prime example was the USA PATRIOT Act, which was passed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and subsequently received considerable critique due to the sweeping nature of its redefinition of what was acceptable in the cause of ‘fighting terror’. The media, and their construal of events and policies, played a significant (...) role in the necessary process of legitimation. In this paper, we explore how one particular area of the media, the superhero comic book, was also active in this regard. By focusing specifically on the multimodal meaning construction within Marvel's Civil War comics series, we suggest how a close multimodal discourse analysis can shed further light on the mechanisms by which particular discourse contexts of public opinion are propagated. (shrink)
The comic is one of the principal esthetic categories; it unites the multifaceted experience of the social mind as it assimilates and cognizes the world, particularly the social world, on the basis of axioms of common sense, or even of public opinion about these axioms. Boldly violating the laws of logic and the verisimilitude of images, of normal connections and notions, and playing upon these violations, the comic nonetheless remains firmly on the side of common sense. The comic is inexhaustible (...) in its nuances — from light merriment and entertainment to malicious ridicule and satire, from gross farce to subtle forms of irony and humor. (shrink)
This article examines the comic portrayal of Confucius in the Analects and the Zhuangzi, maintaining that there is a humorous aspect to the character of Confucius that is often overlooked. Conventional interpretations of the Analects downplay the pranks and mocking comments that are sprinkled throughout them. Many of the humorous words Confucius utters are directed at ritualistic behaviour which has become mechanistic, suggesting that in order to take ritual seriously, we must also be prepared to take it in jest. Furthermore, (...) Confucius’s situation is poked fun at in both the Analects and the Zhuangzi, since he wanders around desperately seeking a position of influence that eludes him. But while the Zhuangzi relentlessly mocks Confucius for his ritualized arrogance, it also signals his respect for him by making him the mouthpiece of the very Dao that it accuses him of straying from. (shrink)
This article investigates the relationship between comic speech and political authority in democratic Athens through a reading of Aristophanes’ Knights. The article surveys three different interpretations of how Aristophanes constructs the authority of his comic persona in the play: he contrasts comic speech with rhetorical speech to illustrate the superiority of the former ; he reflexively reveals to the audience the potential deceptiveness of comic speech ; and he mocks his own claims to authority through the construction of a comically (...) boastful persona. It is argued that the final two readings best capture the spirit of Aristophanic comedy, pointing to an affinity between the comic authority constructed by Aristophanes and the democratic conception of authority in operation in classical Athens. (shrink)
One of the more compelling features of Denis Dutton’s The Art Instinct is its theoretical parsimony. Utilizing what essentially amounts to one explanatory principle—that of Darwinian selection—Dutton advances a theory of aesthetics that is at once general enough to account for cross-cultural variations in artistic production and sufficiently nuanced to promote insights into individual artworks. In doing this, Dutton’s work could not offer a greater contrast to some of the more vocal trends in contemporary aesthetic theory, where ponderous theorizing and (...) rebarbative jargons have violently opposed the idea—otherwise so modest—that aesthetic activities might draw on the evolved capacities of the human imagination. On .. (shrink)
Tragedy has traditionally been ranked higher than comedy, and critics often valorize the ‘tragic vision of life’. Using twenty contrasts between tragedy and comedy, I argue that there is a ‘comic vision of life’ which is superior to the tragic vision, especially in the post-heroic era in which we live.
During nearly two centuries, American storytellers have celebrated comic figures, ebullient showoffs who turned up on one frontier after another—in the old South, in Kentucky and Tennessee, along the great inland rivers, in the mountains and the mines and on the prairies. Often, the stories went, when these characters engaged in a favorite pastime—playfully bragging about their strength, their skill and their exploits—they used animal metaphors such as Opossum, Screamer, Half-Horse Half-Alligator, the Big Bear of Arkansas or Gamecock of the (...) Wilderness to furnish nicknames. Often they were also identified as fictional or real frontiersmen—Mike Fink, Nimrod Wildfire, Jim Doggett, Pecos Bill—and tall tales clustered around them. Explaining a metaphor and a nickname, an Ohio newspaper in 1830 cited the most famous braggart of this sort: "Ring-tailed roarer—A most vicious fellow—a Crockett." . . . The stories did not have to have roots in reality and often were not new. The real Crockett was well built, handsome, ruddy-cheeked. But traditional jokes made ugliness a funny quality. Falstaff claimed Bardolph's crimson proboscis glowed with a flame that made torches inoperative. The Spectator in 1711 told about "Spectator's" election to England's Ugly Club. Joke 177 in Joe Miller's Jests was about the British kingdom's champion ugly man. When Gus Longstreet entered law school in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1813, a student welcomed him: "Here, sir, is a knife always given to the ugliest student. . . . Until now it has been mine, but beyond doubt, sir, since you are here, I have now no right to it any longer." Andy Jackson—"Old Hickory"—won a like award. Lore had it that Davy was so repulsive looking that if he grinned at a raccoon, it tumbled from its tree. Once, worried because he grinned and grinned without bringing down his victim, he was relieved when a close look showed he had mistaken a knot for a beast. All the same, he had grinned all the bark off the branch. Walter Blair is professor emeritus in the department of English at the University of Chicago. His many influential works include Native American Humor and Horse Sense in American Humor. "Americanized Comic Braggarts" appears in a slightly different version in the book America's Humor from Poor Richard to Doonesbury. (shrink)
In his “Translator’s Introduction” to The Gay Science, Walter Kaufmann writes: “This book … mirrors all of Nietzsche’s thought and could be related in a hundred ways to his other books, his notes and his letters. And yet it is complete in itself. For it is a work of art.” Judging by their actual treatment of The Gay Science, few commentators have taken this claim to artistic completeness seriously. Instead, the usual practice has been to abstract passages from the book, (...) treating them either as initial statements of key Nietzschean doctrines or as casting light on general issues raised throughout Nietzsche’s works. Until now, no commentator of note has attempted an interpretation of The Gay Science as a unified whole. It is to this end that Higgins has written Comic Relief. (shrink)
Explaining and classifying attitudes and art forms related to comic laughter, Swabey defends the kind of comic laughter which perceives the laughable as less than the perfect and true. Bad or false pretenders to "comedy" or humor, e.g., apparently all modern art reputed to be comic and playful, are rather bitterly scolded. The thesis might have been more credibly argued if more positive examples had been used.--C. D.
This article aims to review the last three decades of the comic Spain. The study is evaluating the evolution of the comics industry, from its beginnings during the dictatorship and its expansion with the advent of democracy until the present times of difficulties and changes. The rise of the comic can be seen in its growing importance within the press, the acceptance of a public that matures over time and especially in the sales of an industry that has to adapt (...) to new situations. (shrink)
Teaching is often framed in terms of performance: an orator stands before a crowd, attempting to capture attention and to deliver material prepared in advance. This analogy falls apart, however, when one considers the extent to which teaching is a dialogical endeavor. Looking to the Meno, the Symposium, and the Republic, this paper offers an interpretation of these texts which deepens our understanding of Plato’s theory of education. First, a Platonic view of education recommends a view of educators not as (...) imparters of wisdom upon passive recipients, but as mediators of student growth. Second, the tragic and comic nature of the above Platonic dialogues suggests that the content of a lesson will always be inflected by the personal characters of the students and teacher. This has direct implications for how philosophers approach their task as teachers, the most notable being that the personal characters and classroom dynamics are factors which must be taken into account in the formulation and development of effective pedagogical methods. (shrink)
Using the turn of the century blackface performer Bert Williams as a case study, this essay explores how we might think about black male performativity in the New World as a historical formation, one that extends both over the time of modernity and across the space of diaspora. I draw from contemporary theories of circum-atlantic performance and black feminist studies of the impact of slavery on black racial and gendered identities, to argue that performance affords a unique window into how (...) blackness is constructed in a space between the black male performer and his equally racialized New World audience. The essay theorizes a notion of key black male performances as ‘signature acts’, then explores discussions of minstrelsy by other black American writers such as Ralph Ellison, Ishmael Reed, and the black British writer Caryl Phillips. Using Fanon's notions of triple-consciousness in tandem with Brechtian and Freudian theories of alienated performances and jokes, the essay concludes with a brief analysis of some of the gendered significations in lyrics from Bert Williams’ first musical comedy and then also in a novel about the performer by Caryl Phillips. (shrink)
Patrick Downey finds comedy at the heart of the Western philosophical and theological tradition. In Serious Comedy Downey tracks tragedy and comedy from the beginning of Western thought to the twentieth century, beginning with an in-depth examination of Aristotle and three Platonic dialogues: the Republic, the Phaedrus, and the Symposium. In the book's second section Downey argues that the Bible is at heart a comedic narrative and analyzes the philosophical and theological implications of this comedy. In the third section Downey (...) traces comedy and tragedy in classic and modern philosophers such as Machiavelli, Dante, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard. Readers with an interest in classical philosophy and theology, political philosophy, and narrative theory will be particularly interested in this insightful and thoughtful perspective on the Western tradition. (shrink)