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Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science Presents

What Are Jokes? A Very Serious Question

4/4/18, 7:00 PM

About this event

What Are Jokes? A Very Serious Question

Justin E. H. Smith

Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Paris Diderot University Paris 7, France

In the treatment of fallacies in early modern logic textbooks, we sometimes find the following gem: "This goat is yours; this goat is a mother; therefore, this goat is your mother." If this looks something like a joke it is with good reason, for the formal structure of a joke might well be described as a satire or inversion of logical inference. Like other species of fiction, jokes aim at truth by trafficking in mendacity. This is a dangerous business, and one that tends historically to make them the target of regulation or outright suppression wherever there is a narrow and monolithic account of what the truth is. Relatedly, jokes are a marker of intelligence, of the sort of playfulness of spirit that is valued in a free society. We have here then an instance of what I shall argue is a much more general paradox, whereby reason depends for its survival on regular subversion by unreason, just as for its health the body requires a dose of the very thing that makes it ill. Jokes, I would like to show, are irrational, yet rationality—and by implication, civil public discourse—depends upon them for its continued vitality.

For more information contact Janet McKernan mcps@umn.edu 612-625-6635
This event is free and open to the public. No registration or tickets required.

Event Location
  • Cowles Auditorium, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
  • 301 19th Ave. S.
  • Minneapolis MN
  • USA - United States