Robert Vuckovich: “Humorous Ambivalence”

When addressing a mischievous child of a courtesan, Diogenes’ of Sinope’s quip conveys a sense of humour at this child’s upbringing and moral standing. Pointing to this familial failing conjures up humiliation in the child for not realizing the truth about circumstances and shame at the neglectful parents. Perhaps even those who find Diogenes, a moral policeman of sorts, funny may gradually recognize the philosophical significance of his jab. This combination on conflicting sentiments arouses tension because of how humour is applied; what is funny at first is soon unfunny upon further thought.

Using Diogenes as a starting point, this project will discuss how humour that stimulates philosophical speculation brings about ambivalence. A sudden change in perspective suggests that certain humour is instrumental in drawing attention to a personal or social issue. To treat humour as a means has a saddening effect on our conception of humour: do we need humour to redirect people’s moral focus on what is an ignored truth or an overlooked matter of concern? Yet does the ambivalence initiated by humour serve any other purpose than to redirect people’s perspective on that particular matter? In responding to that question, the paper will determine whether humour should itself be subject to ambivalence.

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