In this course, we will explore four major philosophical theories of comedy: Play, Relief, Superiority and Incongruity. Not only will we consider what Aristotle and Kierkegaard had to say about incongruity, or what Kant and Shaftesbury considered comedic relief to be, we will have the opportunity to examine the work of our favorite comedians, and create our own comedic work in the forms of joke writing, improv, satire and sketch to produce a comedy showcase. Finally, we will learn ways to transfer the skills of comedic writing (creating a strong point of view, editing and revising work for clarity and force of expression, doing quick but effective and ethically responsible research for a short satiric publication) to significantly improve the effectiveness of our writing for other contexts.
This course will be a fast-forward exploration of some of Philosophy’s farther possibilities. Its central aim is to offer forming young philosophers a vision of an urgent, venturesome, thoroughly engaged, and reconstructive kind of philosophical work… and life: to expand and enliven your sense of what philosophical study and practice could be, for you personally as well as in the culture at large. The course is informed by Philosophy as you will probably have encountered it so far in your undergraduate careers, but at the same time will aim systematically and repeatedly to leapfrog the imaginative and other limits of the usual pedagogies and disciplinary conceptions of the field and its possibilities. Can Philosophy, well, save the world? What would a Philosophy look like that tried? At least, what can free-spirited, inventive, and full-hearted young philosophers do at this moment in the life of the culture? What if today’s multiple and overlapping crises could also, taken aright, be seen as (yes) opportunities? For what? In particular, what kind of thinking might it take – whether we have yet learned to call it “philosophy” or not – to bring such possibilities and opportunities into view?
This seminar will focus on the problems—and potential—presented by online communication platforms. Specifically, we will set out to consider the conditions—material, political, technological—that encourage productive discussion and disagreement, and those that undermine it. We will examine the value of open communication and disagreement in both a theoretical way—by reading and reflecting on philosophical texts—and in a practical way—by experimenting with diverse discussion formats, online and IRL. The aim throughout is to assess the (in)compatibility of novel communication platforms with the communicative values we currently hold. Readings in this course will focus both on what makes good discussion good, as well as how technological change shapes how discussion is currently practiced. For this latter topic, we’ll consider specific issues like fake news, echo chambers, and anonymity on the internet, as well as broader topics like the real-world effects of online hate speech. To aid our reflection we will engage in a variety of experiments to tease out the qualities of different communication methods. So, in-class discussion will take many different shapes, and outside of class we will try out different technologically-mediated platforms—e.g., anonymous forums, wikis, audio and video posts, social media—to put our philosophy into practice.