Julian Baggini on Humour in Philosophy: ‘the two major schools of 20th century european existentialism were Sartre and Camus in France, and Monty Python in the UK’

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In this debate, philosopher and cofounder of The Philosophers’ Magazine Julian Baggini debates the relationship between humour and philosophy with continental philosopher John Ó Maoilearca. John Ó Maoilearca advocates Bergson’s concept that laughter is a social cautionary gesture – the caution being ‘thou shalt not become an inert thing’. He argues that laughter is always laughing at X rather than with X, and that comedy arises when the mechanical is entrusted upon the living. Julian Baggini takes a different approach, that humour relates to what we take to be true. He criticises stand up comedians whose model for humour is to reinforce what the audience already believe to be true, because of the assumptions involved in this. Who do you think comes out on top?


What’s so… funny about ‘Biggus Dickus’?


I mean they were certainly absurdists, which overlapped with french existentialism, but if you want to include artists as philosophers and art as philosophy (which may be problematic, but is also charming in some way) you should definitely include other absurdists as part of that existentialist movement, Beckett, for instance…


I for one have always viewed ‘Life of Brian’ as the comedic take on the interplay of Nietzsche’s noble and slave moralities: “Rome against Judea, Judea against Rome”… or may I say the People’s Front of Judea!


I was stunned how many puns and humour were lost in translations of Plato’s dialogues. Always felt as if something vital was sacrificed in this process…