- Funniness, a property the nature of which is both seemingly obvious and yet resistant to analysis, has been the object of intermittent attention in philosophy since Plato. Sometimes this attention has taken the form of an investigation into the nature of laughter and the humorous. Sometimes it has taken comic art-forms as its object, though tragedy has received a good deal more attention from philosophers. And sometimes it has focused on jokes and put-downs in their considerable variety, and ethical questions associated with them. All these inquiries are, of course, interlinked. In this paper, we focus on the ethics of jokes, but will then draw connections between that issue and the question of the ethical dimension of humor in put-downs (a distinct category, we argue) and in art. Our inquiry is thus part of a larger investigation in aesthetics on the relation between artistic and moral value generally.
- We define our position on the ethics of jokes with reference to two antithetical positions on the question: ethicism and immoralism.
- The ethicist about jokes holds that the immorality of a joke always counts against its funniness but does not necessarily extinguish it since a joke may be funny in virtue of non-moral qualities, such as inventiveness and the capacity to surprise.
- This distinguishes ethicism from moralism, the view that if a joke manifests ethically bad attitudes, it is therefore unfunny, and hence fails as a joke.
- The immoralist about jokes holds that sometimes, but not always, the immorality of a joke enhances its funniness.
- We will argue for amoralism, the view that jokes are neither moral nor immoral.
- Extracts; copious footnotes omitted.
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