CSP 11 Humor, Laughter, and a (Morally) Good Life

As Ted Cohen writes: “The fact of jokes – the fact there are [stories meant to make us laugh] – is something of note, something worth thinking about.” In this course, we will do exactly that: we will think seriously about jokes and joking matters. Questions we will ask include: What makes something funny? Why do we laugh? What is the relationship between the aesthetic experience of humor and other aesthetic experiences like that of horror? What is the relationship between joking and absurdity? Is having a sense of humor a virtue, or is failing to have a sense of humor a vice? How does humor help build or define a community? Can morally bad jokes be funny?

To tackle these questions we will read both historical and contemporary philosophical accounts of jokes, humor, the absurd, and the relationship between these things and living a (morally) good life. Supported by the College’s Mellon Grant for the Arts & Urban Experience, we will also take advantage of living in the creative city of Los Angeles to watch films, attend comedy shows, and learn from guest speakers.


4 units


Open only to first year frosh