Many of Ernst Cassirer’s later works are concerned with the dangers of political myth. His analysis speaks at length about the role of philosophy during the rise of the Third Reich, and Cassirer argues that philosophers failed to combat the dominant ideology. Today, philosophers struggle to explain their relevance to greater public and governmental powers that see no intrinsic value. Given the current political situation in the US, we find ourselves at a crossroads as philosophers. We can either retreat and remain within the comforts of academia, or we can take up arms against dangerous and divisive political forces. If we take Cassirer’s prescriptions seriously, we must choose the latter. Fortunately, philosophy has not disappeared from public consciousness completely. An emerging theme in contemporary cultural studies is the exploration of connections between humour and philosophy. I argue we ought to take advantage of the status of the comedian as public philosopher, and for philosophers to take seriously the political power of comedians. To do this responsibly, I analyse a portion of Cassirer’s work that has been widely ignored in scholarship – his understanding of the politics and morality of humour. By analysing these passages in relation to Cassirer’s later works, we are given the tools to understand the power of humour in political discourse, as well as the responsibility of that power. I argue that “joking responsibly”, for Cassirer, means to reveal the motives and values which underlie sophistry, particularly the sort which lends itself to political manipulation.
Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C. and Norman, M.K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Amir, L. (2017). Rethinking Philosophers’ Responsibility. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Blake, A. (2016). ‘Voters strongly reject Hillary Clinton’s ‘basket of Deplorables’ approach.’ September 26, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/09/26/voters-strongly-reject-hillary-clintons-basket-of-deplorables-approach/?utm_term=.a562c915d1b1.
Cassirer, E. (1944a). An Essay on Man. London: Yale University Press.
Cassirer, E. (1944b). ‘Judaism and the modern political myths.’ Contemporary Jewish Record 7 (2), pp. 115–26.
Cassirer, E. (1946a). Language and Myth. Trans. by Langer, S. New York: Dover Publications.
Cassirer, E. (1946b). The Myth of The State. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Cassirer, E. (1953). The Platonic Renaissance in England. Trans. by Pettegrove, J.P. New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons.
Cassirer, E. (1979a). ‘Philosophy and politics’, in Verene D.P. (ed.), Symbol, Myth, and Culture: Essays and Lectures of Ernst Cassirer 1935-1945. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Cassirer, E. (1979b). ‘The technique of our modern political myths’, in Verene D.P. (ed.), Symbol, Myth, and Culture: Essays and Lectures of Ernst Cassirer 1935-1945. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Cohen, H. (1912). Asthetik des Reinen Gefuhls. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer.
Davies, S. (2013). Laughology: Improve Your Life with the Science of Laughter. Crown House Publishing.
Fox, J. D. (2015). ‘Pete Holmes on how the comedian became the modern-day philosopher.’ Vulture, 2015. http://www.vulture.com/2015/03/pete-holmes-on-the-second-comedy-boom.html.
Garber, M. (2015). ‘How comedians became public intellectuals.’ The Atlantic, May 28, 2015. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/05/how-comedians-became-public-intellectuals/394277/.
Gimbel, S. (2018). Isn’t That Clever: A Philosophical Account of Humour and Comedy. New York: Routledge.
Haglund, D. (2014). ‘Watch Louis C.K. chat for half an hour about comedy, parenting, and failure.” Slate, May 9, 2014. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/05/09/ louis_c_k_charlie_rose_interview_louie_talks_parenting_comedy_and_more_video.html.
Hendricks, S. (2017). ‘Why Louis C.K. thinks your inevitable death is hilarious.’ Big Think. February 9, 2017. http://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/louie-ck-the-philosopher-king-of-comedy-and-jokes-about-your-death.
Holt, J. (ed). (2009). The Daily Show and Philosophy: Moments of Zen in the Art of Fake News. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Hurley, M. W., Dennett, D.C. and Adams, R.B. Jr. (2011). Inside Jokes: Using Humour to Reverse-Engineer the Mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Kramer, C. A. (2015a). ‘Incongruity and seriousness.’ Florida Philosophical Review 15 (1), pp. 1–18.
Kramer, C. A. (2015b). ‘Subversive humour.’ PhD Dissertation, Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University. http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations_mu/424.
Leiter, B. (2017a). ‘John Oliver finally does what’s needed on Donald Drumpf.’ n.d. Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog. Retrieved October 20, 2017. From http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2016/02/john-oliver-finally-does-whats-needed-on-donald-drumpf.html.
Leiter, B. (2017b). ‘John Oliver on Trump.’ n.d. Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog. Retrieved October 20, 2017 from http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2016/11/john-oliver-on-trump.html.
Lobell, D. (2014). ‘Modern Day Philosophers | About.’ Modern Day Philosophers. http://www.moderndayphilosophers.net/about-us.
Marra, J. (forthcoming). ‘The phenomenological function of humour.’ Idealistic Studies 46 (2).
Medina, J. (2013). The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Opppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant Imaginations. New York: Oxford University Press.