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Phil 261: The Philosophy of Humor

Instructor: Prof. James (Jim) Sias

Monday & Thursday, 1:30–2:45pm — Fall 2018

In this course, we’ll examine the nature of humor from a (mostly) philosophical perspective. From
theoretical questions about what makes a thing funny (or unfunny) to ethical questions about when it is
(and is not) okay to laugh, we’ll seek an understanding of what humor is and what kind of place it has,
and should have, in our lives.

Contact Information

Email: Note:

Email is the best way to contact me, as
Office location: Allison 2 (temporarily) I check it frequently most days. If I do
not reply to your email within 48 hours,
Office hours: Friday, 12–2:30pm; or by appt you should assume that it was never
Office phone: TBD received in my inbox. Try sending

Course Texts

The Philosophy of Laughter and Humor, edited by John Morreall (SUNY Press, 1987).
Inside Jokes, edited by M. Hurley, D. Dennett, & R. Adams Jr. (MIT Press, 2011).
Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, by Roger Scruton (Oxford University Press, 2011).
* Additional readings will be posted to course website.


Short writing assignments

Grade Distribution
There will be two short writing assignments (2–3 pages). Each will
15% Attendance & participation
be on a topic of my choosing, and will require you to briefly summa-
10% 1st short essay
rize and respond thoughtfully and critically to some issue raised by
10% 2nd short essay
course readings and discussed in class. Detailed instructions for each
25% Final paper
assignment will be posted to the course website.
20% Midterm examination
20% Final examination
Final paper
You have until Friday, November 30th, to propose a topic for your final paper (though, in theory, you can
do so at any time during the semester before that day). Once I approve the topic, you’ll have until the
Monday of finals week (December 17th) to produce a 6–8 page paper on your chosen topic. I’m happy
to review drafts and offer feedback before the final draft is due; but of course, this will be subject to con-
straints of time and availability. The final paper is worth 25% of your grade in the course. Detailed instruc-
tions will be posted to the course website.
Course Policies & Procedures

Attendance & Participation

While I do not take attendance at each class meeting, I do keep track Please note that your physical presence
of who attends regularly and who does not. I also keep track of the in the room during a class meeting does
frequency with which students participate in class discussion. Full not constitute “participation” in the
credit (15%) is reserved for those students with perfect or near-perfect
attendance, and who regularly participate in class discussion. Students
who attend regularly, but rarely or never participate in class discussion,
will receive a grade of 10% or lower.

Academic Conduct & Integrity

Academic misconduct of any form will not be tolerated. All cases of Plagiarism is a form of cheating that
suspected academic misconduct will be reported to the College. This involves any kind of presentation of
includes plagiarism and other forms of cheating, as well as the re-use someone else’s ideas as your own. Students
should note that this includes more
of work submitted for credit in another course. And according to the than just direct quotation without
“Community Standards” page on Dickinson’s website, “The typical proper citation. See the “Community
sanction for academic misconduct is an F in the course and stayed Standards” page on Dickinson’s website
suspension.” If students have any questions about the standards for for descriptions of different forms of
academic conduct and integrity at Dickinson College, they are encour- plagiarism, as well as a list of examples
of other forms of academic misconduct.
aged either to consult with the professor or to review the college’s full
policies, which are available online.

Late work
Late work will be accepted without penalty only if the student can pro- For the record: New days are counted
vide compelling evidence that the tardiness is due to illness, hardship, from the end of class on the day the
or required attendance at a school-sponsored event. Students must assignment was due. So, for instance,
if an assignment is due in class on a
notify the professor (via email) as soon as they become aware of one Monday, and that class period ends
of these possible causes of tardiness. In all other cases – i.e., cases in at 2:45pm, the assignment will be
which a student’s work is late for reasons that are not recognized as considered one day late as of 2:46pm on
valid excuses – the student will be penalized one-third of a letter grade the same day.
for each day (including weekends) that the assignment is late – e.g.,
from a B+ to a B, then from a B to a B-, etc.

Dickinson College makes reasonable academic accommodations for students with documented disabilities.
Students requesting accommodations must make their request and provide appropriate documentation to the
Office of Disability Services (ODS) in Biddle House. Because classes change every semester, eligible students
must obtain a new accommodation letter from Director Marni Jones every semester and review this letter with
their professors so the accommodations can be implemented. The Director of ODS is available by appointment
to answer questions and discuss any implementation issues you may have. ODS proctoring is managed by Susan
Frommer at 717-254-8107 or Address general inquiries to Stephanie Anderberg at
717-245-1734 or e-mail
For more information, see

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Other notes of varied importance
• Courses at the 200- and 300-level will be taught in the seminar style (as opposed to the more traditional lecture
style). If you are unfamiliar, this means that class meetings will be heavily discussion-based, and there is a
correspondingly heightened expectation of student participation. And since enrollment in 200- and 300-level
courses is typically lower, a student’s lack of participation in class discussion will stand out even more than it
would in a lower-level course.
• On a related note: Class discussion will be mostly informal. Think of it like a twice-a-week book club meet-
ing. Obviously, the normal standards of respect and basic human decency still apply (rudeness of any kind
will not be tolerated). But, for instance, students need not raise their hands before participating.
• Noisy or otherwise distracting electronic devices are not to be used in class. This applies especially to cell
phones. Computers are allowed, but if your use of a computer becomes a distraction to anyone, you’ll be told
to put it away or leave the classroom.

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