Ethical Consensus and the Truth of Laughter: The Structure of Moral Transformations

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Peeters Publishers, 1996 - Philosophy - 216 pages
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We participate in moral debate, instead of taking established morality for granted, because of our discontent with the moral discourse already existing. We feel that something is distorted or concealed, that something remains to be said. One of the strategies to expose the deficiencies of established discourse is critical argument, but under certain specific historical circumstances, the apparent self-evidence of established moral discourse has gained such a dominance, has acquired such an ability to conceal its basic vulnerability, that its validity simply seems beyond contestation. Notwithstanding our discontent, we remain unable to challenge the established truth effectively. Then, all of a sudden, its vulnerability is revealed - and this is the experience of laughter. Moral criticism is preceded by laughter. In fact, all crucial transformations that emerged in the history of morality were accompanied by and made possible by laughter and moral criticism is basically and originally a comic genre. After drawing an outline of the present moral regime in chapter one, the moral significance of laughter is recovered with the help of four 'philosophers of laughter' in chapter two, namely Bakhtin, Nietzsche, Bataille and Foucault. Laughter allows reality to appear in a certain light, it contains a basic truth, it is a philosophical principle in its own right that cannot be reduced to or identified with the truth of science. In the subsequent chapters it is shown how three crucial moral transformations, occuring in the fourth century B.C., the sixteenth century A.D. and the nineteenth century A.D. evolved out of an experience of laughter, articulated by three outstanding protagonists of laughter presented in this book: Socrates, Luther and Ibsen. Finally, the significance of the experience of laughter in view of the present is discussed.

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Contents

The beginning of moral philosophy as a philosophical problem
7
Established Morality and Discontent
15
4
37
Laughter as a State of Mind
51
Judging Socrates
95
The court jesters privilege
156
A final judgement
163
The Transfiguration of the Moral Subject a Rereading
179
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