Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Laughing With 'Horrible' People: Reaffirming Ethical Boundaries Through Laughter

Graham, Nicole (2020) Laughing With 'Horrible' People: Reaffirming Ethical Boundaries Through Laughter. In: Benko, Steven, ed. Ethics in Comedy: Essays on Crossing the Line. McFarland, Jefferson, pp. 210-222. ISBN 978-1-4766-7641-8. E-ISBN 978-1-4766-4097-6. (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:87463)

The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided. (Contact us about this Publication)


This chapter will argue that laughter is a powerful means of solidifying a group’s identity and reinforcing social morality. Laughter has the power to make or break relations; it has the capacity to deeply offend or upset someone, just as much as it can strengthen friendships and romantic bonds. It’s therefore important to consider what we laugh at and who we laugh with, and whether or not who we laugh with changes what we laugh at. With that in mind, this chapter considers the cult party game, Cards Against Humanity. Described by its own creators as “a party game for horrible people”, it will be explored to facilitate an understanding of the ways in which the ethical boundaries of a given society can be transgressed by laughter without consequence. For the duration of this game, at least, there is a suspension of moral responsibility, though this may not stop participants asking: should I be laughing at this? The game intentionally challenges social etiquette and expectations but it also provides a ‘safe’ space to laugh. It will be argued that these safe spaces offer a temporary release from social norms, yet ultimately reinforce their existence in the ‘real world’. An examination of Francis Hutcheson’s (1750) understanding of laughter and its social function will aid this exploration. Written to challenge Thomas Hobbes’ (1640, 1651) earlier thoughts on laughter as motivated by a feeling of superiority, Hutcheson suggests laughter is a response to the perception of incongruities. Through his writing, Hutcheson starts to conceive his own moral code for laughter, identifying what it is and is not appropriate to laugh at, in whose company should we laugh, and the importance of intention behind the provocation of laughter. How these functions of laughter are evident in Cards Against Humanity is to be discussed in this chapter.

Item Type: Book section
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Nicole Graham
Date Deposited: 06 Apr 2021 13:21 UTC
Last Modified: 06 Apr 2021 13:21 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.