Abstract

The ethics of humor has suffered from failure to distinguish objects of evaluation. This paper’s main thesis is that once we do distinguish the evaluation of ordinary (nonprofessional) humorous acts—everyday joking and laughing—from that of humorous amusement or mirth considered as a mental state, we find that, with one important qualification, the former is not particularly distinctive; standard moral theories apply straightforwardly. (The qualification is based on Steven Gimbel’s important notion of a “play frame.”) What presents special issues for moral philosophy is, rather, the mental state, and its assessment from the viewpoint of virtue and character. The paper explores several ways in which mirth per se can be morally bad.

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