Florida Philosophical Review

Current Issue

Vol. XV.1, Winter 2015

Volume XV, Number 1

Winter 2015

Copyright 2015 by The University of Central Florida: ISSN 1535-3656

Editorial Board

Table of Contents

  1. Editors' Introduction by Tom Brommage, Michael Cundall, and Elizabeth Victori
  2. "Incongruity and Seriousness" by Chris A. Kramer1
  3. "Self-Deprecation and the Habit of Laughter" by Camille Atkinson19
  4. "'He Approves this Message': Presidential Self-Deprecating Humor as a Violation of a Social Contract" by Liz Sills37
  5. "Dirty Jokes, Tasteless Jokes, Ethnic Jokes" by Al Gini50
  6. "Just Kidding Folks! An Expressivist Analysis of Humor" by Thomas Brommage66
  7. "Heckler Ethics" by Steven Gimbel78
  8. "A Laughable Book Review: On Hating Hating Perfection" by Sophia A. Stone88
  9. Notes on Contributors94
Editors' Introduction

Guest Editors' Introduction

Tom Brommage, Michael Cundall, and Elizabeth Victor

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Winter 2015


Incongruity and Seriousness

Chris A. Kramer, Rock Valley College
Incongruity and Seriousness

In the first part of this paper, I will briefly introduce the concept of incongruity and its relation to humor and seriousness, connecting the ideas of Arthur Schopenhauer and the contemporary work of John Morreall. I will reveal some of the relations between Schopenhauer's notion of "seriousness" and the existentialists such as Jean Paul Sartre, Simone Be Beauvoir, and Lewis Gordon. In section II, I will consider the relationship between playfulness and incongruity, noting the role that enjoyment of incongruity plays in creative, non-dogmatic thinking. In section III, I will critique Morreall's arguments against the efficacy of humor as a means of serious protest, analyzing the complex relationship between the ambiguous terms "seriousness" and "playfulness". In the final section, I contend that Morreall's conception of humor, with which I generally agree, fails to adequately address subversive humor. He is cognizant of the benefits of a humorous attitude and of the work of rebellious groups who use humor, but his insistence that the play mode of humor precludes emotional attachment and practical concern, renders his philosophical analysis of humor far less comprehensive than his (2009) title suggests. I will make the case, contra Morreall, and he is the most prominent of many humor theorists who make similar points, that some humor in play mode is non-existentially, non-gravely serious, and intends to do more than simply "delight" audiences; the subversive humorist, in particular, is attempting to disclose and transmit information in such a way as to create change in both attitudes and practical social interactions.

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Self-Deprecation and the Habit of Laughter

Camille Atkinson, Southern Maine Community College

My objective here is to give an account of self-deprecating humor—examining what works, what doesn't, and why—and to reflect on the significance of the audience response. More specifically, I will be focusing not only on the purpose or intention behind self-deprecating jokes, but considering how their consequences might render them successful or unsuccessful. For example, under what circumstances does self-deprecation tend to put listeners at ease, and when is this type of humor more likely to put people off? I will also consider the ways in which self-deprecating jokes are similar to gallows humor, and the extent to which context counts. The target or "butt" of these jokes, in cases of self-deprecation as well as gallows humor, will be explored; as will whether or not the audience bears some responsibility or has a role to play in the ultimate success or failure of a joke. For instance, is the audience role a completely receptive and passive one? Is the joker/jokee relationship one which confers no responsibility on the listener whatsoever? Or, do listeners have an obligation to respond with appreciative laughter to mere attempts at humor, especially the self-deprecating sort, by accepting such levity in the spirit in which it is intended? Does this mean that being a good sport—responding generously or appreciatively when a well-intentioned joke fails to land—would be a habit worth cultivating? If so and courtesy laughter or a playful appreciation of self-deprecating humor is something that can be cultivated, what specifically would that entail?

In sum, although I cannot fully or definitively answer each and every one of these questions, I do hope to provide some provisional responses. To better situate the nature of self-deprecation, I will not only provide a brief description of the gallows genre, I will also explore two traditional theories of humor. Those that are particularly relevant, to both gallows and self-deprecating humor are Freud's relief theory and the incongruity view. In addition, I will identify what I believe to be the three essential ingredients of successful self-deprecation and, finally, will conclude with the argument that audiences or listeners do have an important role to play. And, moreover, that generous, appreciative laughter can and should be cultivated—even though this is something that will largely depend on one's personal history and habits, dispositional character and cultural background.

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"He Approves This Message": Presidential Self-Deprecating Humor as a Violation of a Social Contract

Liz Sills, Louisiana State University

Although various forms of humor have performed an intricate dance of dominance with the US executive branch since the presidency was founded, recent presidents and presidential candidates have begun making fun of themselves in public forums with increasing frequency. This analysis explores the power dynamic involved with a humorous presidential persona. In McLuhan's electric age, where intellectual property has gained the protected status given to physical property by various social contract theories, such as Locke's, humor seems to be understood as the domain of the masses rather than their government. This domain is more noteworthy given humor's capacity to act as criticism. When the people are free to understand their president through critical jokes, they maintain a distance from him that maintains their continued consent to his actions – or questions it. As such, I argue that presidential self-deprecation is the basis for a species of manufactured consent, and usurps a species of expression of the people that the government is supposed to protect rather than use. The public gets the same satisfactory payoff from laughing that they might from humorous criticism, but they are laughing with the president rather than at him, placing governance on a unilateral plane for which social contract theory does not allow. The train of reasoning concludes with a note of hope, however, that the people might reclaim the ability to make fun of their president and thus re-establish the spirit of a democratic social contract. Joking, in this light, is a valuable form of critical social action.

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Dirty Jokes, Tasteless, Jokes, Ethnic Jokes

Al Gini, Loyola University Chicago

The simple fact is every utterance has the potential to offend. The issue pursued in this paper is not whether a joke is ethically correct or ethically objectionable. Rather, the issue is, how is it possible that an utterly tasteless joke, a joke that many consider to be crude, rude, inappropriate, highly offensive and even harmful be considered to be funny? Even though I will argue that given the right context, the right audience, any joke can be considered funny, I am not saying that they are acceptable, correct, or ethical. The issue here is an epistemic one and not normative. Depending upon who's telling the joke and the audience to whom it's told, ethnic and racial jokes can either prove to be delightful and delicious or dehumanizing and disgusting. However, I want to point out that good ethnic humor need not and should not be this way.

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Just Kidding, Folks!: An Expressivist Analysis of Offensive Humor

Thomas Brommage, Sam Houston State University

In this paper, I will to lay down what I call an expressivist account of the pragmatics of jokes, through which I wish to shed light on the function of offensive jokes in particular. I will focus specifically on jokes, not humor more generally. Jokes are particular sorts of speech-acts; and although many may be issued in the form of declarative or interrogative sentences, they are not reducible to them. I suggest here that their analysis must be understood in terms of the unique pragmatic roles that they play. Following this I turn to offensive jokes in particular, describing some of the conditions relevant to their uptake. I will argue that there is a degree of entitlement to certain jokes (relative to the speaker's authority), and set of commitments that follow from a given joke—both of which are necessary to understand the difference between a context in which a joke is offensive and one in which a similar joke may be merely not funny. I conclude by outlining how on my account we can understand the role of offensive humor as a mode of social criticism.

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Heckler Ethics

Steven Gimbel, Gettysburg College

The discourse surrounding humor and ethics has focused exclusively on jokes – Are certain jokes immoral to tell? Why can some people tell some jokes and not others? How soon is too soon? Two cases which have widely considered important in assessing the answers to these questions – those of Michael Richards and Daniel Tosh – actually fail to address the questions at all in that while the events discussed occurred during the comedians’ sets in a comedy club, neither were jokes. Both, rather, were responses to hecklers. The moral bounds of a comedian’s ability to respond to hecklers is a different question, but one that ought to be taken seriously. We afford comedians a broader moral range than we do to others in polite discourse. This is reasonable. I argue that the moral bounds ought to be expanded even further in dealing with hecklers, that is, comedians ought to be allowed to say things that would be out of bounds in other circumstances. But this expansion does not mean that there are no moral boundaries in responding to hecklers. The determination of these lines requires an understanding of the nature of the heckling and the cultural meaning of the language used to shut the hecklers down.

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A Laughable Book Review: On Hating Hating Perfection

Sophia A. Stone, Lynn University

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Notes on Contributors

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