Marist Undergraduate Philosophy Journal Vol VI 2023

Diotima: The Marist Undergraduate Philosophy Journal

Volume VI


Lily Jandrisevits

Gianna Nicosia

Editorial Board

Patricia Devine

Patrick Davis

Ivory Unga

Faculty Advisors

Dr. Sasha Biro

Dr. Joseph Campisi

Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies

Marist College

Poughkeepsie, NY


Table of Contents

A Letter from the Editors


“What’s So Funny?”

2 – 15

Jacqueline Reagan, United States Military Academy at West Point

“ Liberation for the 99%”

16 – 36

Catalina Buitano, Marist College

“Agent - Regret and Regret Consequentialism”

37 – 50

Harry Honig, University of Massachusetts- Amherst

“Out Of Their Depth?”

51 – 61

David Veldran, Princeton University

Interview with Dr. Thi Nguyen

62 – 64

Diotima: The Marist Undergraduate Philosophy Journal

A Letter from the Editors

Dear Reader,

With immense excitement, we are happy to present volume VI of Diotima: The Marist Undergraduate Philosophy Journal. The topics in this issue range greatly, but we are glad to present such a breadth of philosophical thought, from Marxist cultural critiques to what makes something funny. Most of the papers are taken from Marist’s 2023 Undergraduate Philosophy Conference, which was hosted last spring. The keynote speaker from that conference, Dr. C. Thi Nguyen (University of Utah), was interviewed for this issue. It was a great opportunity to hear Dr. Nguyen talk about what he called “value collapse” in person. His lecture was insightful, and relevant to what colleges value as an institution, as well as how to view systems of morality generally. It was entertaining to talk to Dr. Nguyen over Thai food after his talk, as he elaborated on his work on games and agency and his enjoyment of the newest boygenius album (he concluded his talk with one of their song lyrics). His interview serves as a peek into how he thinks, so we a re thankful that he took the time to respond to our questions. This issue is also notable because it is the unveiling of the new title of our philosophy journal: Diotima . Who better to represent a philosophy journal than Diotima, a teacher of Socrates, often considered the “father” of Western philosophy? Her explanation of love in Plato’s Symposium points towards the highest form of love being a pursuit of knowledge. In the broadest sense, the equating of love and the pursuit of knowledge, gets at one of the common motivations for philosophical thought. This search is something that we want to promote in this journal. Critical thought, open dialogues, and deeper understanding are essential to all philosophy and it is our mission to present some of the best undergraduate versions of this in our journal.

So, please enjoy reading and get to thinking!


Lily Jandrisevits and Gianna Nicosia

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What’s So Funny?

WHAT’S SO FUNNY? Jacqueline Reagan

United States Military Academy at West Point


The concept of humor has baffled philosophers for centuries. While theories have

emerged over time, none have successfully established the necessary and sufficient

conditions for humor. This paper compares Thomas Hobbes’ Superiority Theory

with Peter McGra w and Caleb Warren’s Benign Violation Theory. While the

Benign Violation Theory describes humor better than the Superiority Theory, it

does not provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for humor as it claims. In

response to this shortcoming and in contribution toward a more encompassing

theory of humor, this paper considers how mental state, particularly receptivity,

plays a part in establishing conditions for humor.

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efining humor has been a struggle amongst philosophers for centuries.

Claims of necessary and sufficient conditions for humor have become

more descriptive over time but have not yet been entirely successful. As

Thomas Hobbes notes in The Elements of Law: Natural and Politic , “There is a

passion that hath no name, but the sign of it is that distortion of the countenance

which we call laughter, which is always joy; but what joy, what we think, and

wherein we triumph when we laugh, hath not hitherto declared b een by any.” 1 In

this paper, I will discuss two theories of humor: Hobbes’ own Superiority Theory,

and Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren’s modern Benign Violation Theory. I will

show that while the Benign Violation Theory is a better description of humor than

Hobbes’ Superiority Theory, it does not provide the necessary and sufficient

conditions for humor as it claims. In response to this shortcoming and in

contribution toward a more encompassing theory of humor, I will offer my own

considerations of how mental state, particularly receptivity, plays a part in

establishing conditions for humor.

To start, it is worthy to note the language regarding humor has evolved over

time. The word “humor” was not used in its typical sense until the 17 th century,

though theories about humor have existed long before then, typically in terms of

“laughter” or “amusement . ” 2 Language has developed to distinctly name these acute

concepts only relatively recently; modern philosophers are apt to understand that

regarding the state of mind, “laughter is its full expression, amusement its essence,

and humour its intentional object .” 3 Roger Scruton prefaces in his article

“Laughter,” how to navigate early philosophers’ accounts of humor:

To feel our way towards the mental phenomenon that concerns us, we must recognize that common usage will be an inaccurate guide…The first step towards imposing order on this usage is to stipulate that the phenomenon which we seek to describe has intentionality. It is not laughter, but laughter

1 Thomas Hobbes, The Elements of Law: Natural and Politic (Oxford: Thornton, 1888), 41. 2 Oxford English Dictionary Online (Oxford University Press), accessed April 3, 2023, 3 Roger Scru ton and Peter Jones, “Laughter,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society , Supplementary Volumes 56 (1982): 198, JSTOR (4106931).

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at or about something, that interests the philosopher. Given intentionality, ‘laughter,’ ‘amusement’ and ‘humor’ may designate a single state of mind. 4

We must remember to consider early descriptions of humor generously.

Hobbes’ Superiority Theory holds that the experience of humor is the result

of a sudden feeling of superiority in comparison to something or someone inferior,

including our former selves. 5 Though many philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle,

and Descartes, have described a similar notion of humor, Hobbes’ account is

thought to be most explicit. He states: “I may therefore conclude that the p assion of

laughter is nothing else but a sudden glory arising from sudden conception of some

eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmities of others, or with our own

formerly.” 6 The “sudden glory” Hobbes describes represents the moment of

realization we have of our superior status relative to the object of our amusement.

The standardized form for Hobbes’ Superiority Theory is as follows:

(P1) We can conceive our own superiority when we compare ourselves to someone else or our former selves.

(P2) This conception can occur suddenly.

(P3) This sudden conception produces a feeling of glory.

(P4) Sudden glory produces laughter.

(C) Laughter is the result of a sudden recognition of our superiority .

McGraw’s and Warren’s Benign Violation Theory, referred to as BV Theory

for the remainder of this paper, holds that “humor occurs when (1) a circumstance is

appraised as a violation, (2) the circumstance is appraised as benign, and (3) both

appraisals occur simultaneously.” 7 Regarding Condition (1), McGraw and Warren

define a violation as “anything that threatens one’s beliefs about how things should

4 Scruton and Jones, "Laughter," 198. 5 John Morreall, “Philosophy of Humor,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , 6 Hobbes, The Elements of Law, 42. 7 Peter A. McGraw and Caleb Warren, “Benign Violation Theory,” Encyclopedia of Humor Studies (2014): 75.

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be, ” 8 to include physical and psychological well-being (playfighting and insults,

respectively), as well as behaviors that break social, cultural, linguistic, logical, and

moral norms. Condition (2) means to account for those situations that violate

expectations and are not humorous. It states that for a violation to be humorous, “it

needs to seem OK, safe, or acceptable.” 9 Three cues in which a violation may be

perceived as benign are the presence of alternative norms that suggest the violation

is acceptable, psychological distance from the violation, or a low commitment to the

person or norm being violated. 10 Lastly, McGraw and Warren use Condition (3) to

specify that humor is only the product of these perceptions occurring together. The

standardized form of this theory is as follows:

(P1) We perceive some norm being violated.

(P2) We perceive this violation to be benign.

(P3) The simultaneous occurrence of these perceptions results in humor.

(C) Humor is the result of a perceived benign violation of norms.

When contemplating whether the Superiority Theory provides the necessary

and sufficient conditions for humor, many holes arise. Firstly, feelings of superiority

are not a necessary condition for humor — that is, when we find something funny, we

do not always experience feelings of superiority. When we laugh at puns or the

noise a ketchup bottle makes when you squeeze it while empty, it is unlikely we feel

superior to the word play or the ketchup bottle. We may even laugh at a person who

jokingly insults us, as in a roast dinner; in this instance, we probably do not feel

superior to the roaster, and if the behavior they are making fun of is one we

currently exhibit, we are probably not feeling superior to a former state of ourselves.

Smuts offers the situation of opening the refrigerator and finding a bowling ball

inside; the humor we would find in this would not seem to be rooted in even any

8 McGraw and Warren, “Benign Violation Theory,” 75. 9 McGraw and Warren, “Benign Violation Theory,” 75 . 10 McGraw and Warren, “Benign Violation Theory,” 7 6.

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suppressed feelings of superiority. 11 From these examples, one can rule out

superiority as a necessary condition for humor.

In addition to being unnecessary, feelings of superiority are not a sufficient

condition for humor, either. Every time we do feel superior, we do not experience

humor. When we engage in activities that help us understand our superior abilities,

such as receiving the highest test grade in the class, studying the life of an insect, or

even lending our skills and talents to someone who does not possess them, we do not

usually find such activities funny. Countless examples — most, actually — refute the

idea of superiority as the basis for humor. However, it is worthwhile to note that

neither Hobbes nor any of his like-minded counterparts stated that they believed

the theory to be definitive; that is, to provide such necessary and sufficient

conditions. Lintott arg ues that criticizing Hobbes’ in this way is a crucial

misreading of his work; that instead, Hobbes is offering a description of humor as it

relates to circumstances and may explain some components of human nature. 12

Considering this factor does not alleviate any illegitimacy from the commonly

understood notion of the Superiority Theory as a definition for humor, but it may

make Hobbes’ specific claims less deficient.

BV Theory is a much more descriptive theory for humor than the Superiority

Theory. Upon thin king through examples of “funny” situations, one can see that BV

Theory seems to support nearly all of them, whereas the Superiority Theory only

applies to a select few. When considering the same examples previously discussed,

one can concede that a pun would seem to be a benign violation of language norms,

a funny-sounding ketchup bottle to be a benign violation of farting norms, a roast to

be a benign violation of social norms, and a bowling ball in the refrigerator to be a

benign violation of refrigerator norms. Though some of these categories of norms do

sound rather humorous, this may be because they are a benign violation of normal-

11 Aaron Smuts, “Humor," Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy , accessed March 28, 2023, 12 Sheila Lintott, “Superiority in Humor Theory,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 74, no. 4 (October 25, 2016): 348,

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sounding norms themselves. In comparing the two theories side-by-side when

applied to a humorous situation, BV theory seems to be the more viable description

most of the time.

While BV Theory may be quite descriptive of humor, it maintains one claim

that in the end makes it deficient. BV theory does not hold that its three conditions

frequently produce humor, but that the “ three conditions are jointly necessary and

sufficient for eliciting humor” 13 ; it attempts exactly what Lintott pointed out that

Hobbes does not. To test McGraw and Warren’s claim, we may consider examples

where humor results despite the absence of one or more of these three conditions;

that is, examples where these conditions are not necessary. Consider your friend

whom you know to be quite talented in doing impressions or accents; upon their

performance, your natural response may very likely be to laugh, though it does not

seem that you are laughing because your friend is violating some norm of skillfully

portraying someone’s behavior, but rather because of how scarily accurate their

portrayal is. Additionally, some people may experience the frustrating behavior of

smiling or laughing in situations that are not benign. For example, some people

might find it difficult to suppress a smile while being yelled at (which often causes

more yelling) though it is unlikely that their urge to smile is because they truly

perceive the situation as benign. This phenomenon, called the inappropriate

affect, 14 seems to occur when the person knows the situation to be serious and that

their reaction is not appropriate.

These situations, though worthy of consideration, I concede to be weak

counterexamples. They seem to only work because they operate on technicalities (in

the first case: what would the norm even be? or in the second case: their laughter

must be because they truly think the situation benign ) and not their own merit. It is

very possible that with an imitation, one is benignly violating the norm of

individuality — one should not be able to be like someone else so convincingly. A

13 Peter A. McGraw and Caleb Warren, “Benign Violations: Making Immoral Behavior Funny,” Psychological Science 21, no. 8 (August 1, 2010): 1142, 14 APA Dictionary of Psychology, accessed December 9, 2022,

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suppressed smile or laugh might come off as perceiving the situation as benign, but

it also may result from a recognition of the severity of the situation and therefore an

attempt to perceive it benignly as a coping mechanism. 15 Considering the ambiguity

of the causes of humor in these cases as well as the viable possibility that the cases

do abide by the conditions in an unusual way, I am afraid my attempts to disprove

McGraw and Warren’s conditions are quite weak. I therefore concede that the

conditions of BV theory are likely necessary.

Stronger evidence for the shortcomings of BV Theory lies in considering

examples where the three conditions are not sufficient; that is, they have the

potential to not result in humor. A common emotion that seems to obey these

conditions is that of surprise. Imagine the day the results of your school’s class

election come out. You do not really care who wins and do not bother tuning into the

live results. The next day, though, you overhear people saying the winner was a

write-in whose name you have never heard before. Your reaction would likely be an

“Oh?” moment of surprise, but not necessarily laughter. At the same time, it was

categorically a benign violation of election norms. In the case of someone showing

up to their surprise birthday party, their reaction after everyone jumps out and

yells “surprise!” also may not be that of finding the situation humorous rather than

just being shocked, flattered, or embarrassed. It is easy to conceive examples where

norms are insignificantly violated and yet not funny, allowing us to refute the

sufficiency of BV Theory’s three conditions.

The previous examples highlight that these three conditions are likely

necessary but not sufficient for a humorous situation. We may then contemplate

what missing additional condition(s) could establish what is necessary and

sufficient. To do so, we must consider how we know what we know about humor.

Typically, there are two general ways of considering the epistemology of something,

by means of either empiricism or rationalism. Humor is far more conducive to

contemplation from the empirical mode than the rational one. One knows humor

15 “Are Your Emotions Out of Control?,” Verywell Mind, accessed December 9, 2022,

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because they have experienced something funny. It is much more difficult to know

humor by reasoning through a joke, convincing oneself that it is funny. Humor

results in a physical response such as laughter or a smile, or even mental

amusement. In any case, there is a highly discernable experience associated with

encountering humor —like Hobbes said, it “is always joy.” 16 Making note of this

allows us to understand the role of our own mental states in instantiating humor.

The factor that I believe is missing from the definition of humor is one I have

named receptivity; that is, the ability and will of a person to determine or accept a

situation to be a benign violation. This idea aligns well with our previous

experiences, in that anyone can fathom a situation where two people experience the

same benign violation, yet one finds it humorous and the other does not. Receptivity

may be characterized in three ways: by a person’s taste, mood, or attention level.

Taste refers more to a person’s ability to be receptive to a certain benign violation.

This, too, grounds out well: one can conceive of the notion that some people may be

more sensitive to irony than others, delight in sarcasm more than others, appreciate

clever puns more than others, or think goofy-looking motions or noises downright

hilarious more than others. Mood and attention level are variable elements that can

impact ability and will, though I would argue, influence will more so. Consider the

mood of the person in a drunken state, who may find any situation they are in

exceptionally funny; or the attention level of the student who is zoned in on their

homework and unreactive to their humorous friends around them, but upon taking

a break, engages immediately with their jokes. We can also imagine situations that

are indiscernible matters of taste, mood, or will, and are instead a combination of

any of the three. Sometimes the slightest thing can erupt a room in laughter; other

times something of that same magnitude evokes a mere chuckle, if any reaction at

all, and one can have no distinct explanation why. One can understand this same

concept when referencing the variation in our own senses of humor; there may be

16 Hobbes, The Elements of Law, 41.

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moments where we find something gut-busting and other moments where we do not

have any humorous reaction to that same thing.

All these situations seem to reinforce the role mental states play in whether

something is humorous. Adjusting BV theory to include receptivity, I claim,

completes the definition for humor, establishing necessary and sufficient conditions.

Thus, the standardized form of this revised theory is such:

(P1) Some norm is being violated.

(P2) This violation is benign to us.

(P3) We are in a mental state that allows us to both recognize and be receptive to a non-threatening violation.

(P4) This recognition and reception results in a feeling of amusement.

(C) Humor is the result of a perceived benign violation of norms given we are in such

a mental state to be receptive to the perception.

The most conspicuous argument I can conceive to counter my own is that

there are no necessary and sufficient condition s for humor at all. Morris Weitz’s

essay , “The Role of Theory in Aesthetics,” argues that art cannot be defined in this

way. Rather, art exists as an open concept; that is, it has “no necessary and

sufficient properties, only ‘a complicated network of similarities overlapping and

crisscrossing,’ such that…they form a family with family resemblances and no

common trait.” 17 One could apply Weitz’s argument to humor to say that humor,

too, does not maintain any necessary nor sufficient conditions. Instead, it is

composed of a network of things that are funny in some capacity. As the network

grows, these capacities become increasingly dissimilar, as Weitz’s notion of things

N , N + 1, and N + n all belonging to the same concept exemplifies. 18 This seems

plausible based on the existence of vast types of humor which sometimes completely

oppose one another in kind.

17 Morris Weitz, “The Role of Theory in Aesthetics,” in Philosophy for the 21 st Century: A Comprehensive Reader, ed. Stephen M. Cahn (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003), 780. 18 Weitz, “The Role of Theory in Aesthetics,” 780.

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For example, both the situations of understanding and not understanding a

joke may be humorous. When a comedian tells a joke, people usually find it funny

because they “get” the punchline. However, the popular concept of anti -humor is

funny for the exact opposite reason — a punchline never arrives. 19 If these situations

are opposite in nature, yet both result in humor, it would seem that anything has

the potential to qualify for humorhood. From wit to stupidity, from long-drawn out

anecdotes to brief one-liners, from perfect imitation to hyperbolic parody —

humorous things seem like they can be incredibly variant in kind. Plus, these are

the situations we know already to warrant the name of humor — what about the

situations that no one anticipates will be humorous until they evidently are such? If

there are types of humor we know to differ so vastly as well as sources of humor

that exist without our knowledge or anticipation, it must be impossible for humor to

have such a set of necessary and sufficient conditions common to all its occurrences.

I would like to respond to this objection by taking a cue from George Dickie,

specifically his response to Weitz’s argume nt. Dickie takes up an opposite stance to

Weitz: art can be defined. He claims that even without perfect identification of the

defining feature, there must be “some one or more other features of works of art

[that] distinguish them from nonart.” 20 Applying this argument to humor, I am

particularly attentive to the ability to distinguish humorous experiences from non-

humorous ones. If there existed no objective condition for the occurrence of humor,

we would constantly be attempting to discriminate the humorous from non-

humorous, saying, Did I find that funny? With such discrimination, we might then,

find ourselves to be “humored” constantly, or never at all. As discussed earlier, this

is evidently not the case with humor, as it is known upon immediate experience and

not by contemplation. Humor is an experience, but it is an objective experience.

When someone is humored, it is not possible to truthfully deny the experience;

similarly, when someone is not humored, it is not possible to truthfully claim they

19 “Anti - Humor,” TV Tropes, accessed December 8, 2022, 20 George Dickie, “Defining Art,” in Philosophy for the 21 st Century: A Comprehensive Reader, ed. Stephen M. Cahn (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003), 785.

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were. Humor must be able to be defined because we can undeniably distinguish our

experience of it.

Now, I anticipate critics to cite my addition of the receptivity condition and

claim it to contradict what I have just stated in the attempt to prove that even my

theory necessitates humor to be an open concept. They may find it problematic to

call receptivity an objective condition for humor because the nature of receptivity

itself seems to be subjective. A person’s receptivity can change from moment to

moment, not to mention from person to person or even culture to culture. If one can

find something humorous simply by choosing to perceive it as such, then does that

not rid the object of humor itself entirely from playing a part in the perception?

With a will to perceive something as humor, can anything then be called funny?

Firstly, it is possible for receptivity to be subjective and still exist as an

objective requirement for the experience of humor. Certainly, receptivity is

dependent upon one’s mental state, as I have described with the elements of taste,

mood, and attention level. Because humor is an experience — the result of a

perception — the merit of the object of humor must, at least in part, rely on the

perceiver. It is still possible to claim, though, that receptivity can be subjective in

form but not in definition —that is, one’s mental state, however va riable it may be,

must be able to recognize and accept a situation as a benign violation. This aligns

with the previous conditions for humor as well. For example, expectations are

certainly subjective in that they vary between persons according to individual

mental states; however, in whatever capacity they exist, they must actually be

violated. The mistake the counterargument makes is that it focuses much too

heavily on the variance in objects of humor and overlooks the conditions for the

occurrence of humor. Secondly and to directly answer the question, no, one cannot

automatically find anything humorous just by choosing to perceive it as such. The

three original conditions of BV theory, ones that do not depend upon the conscious

choice of the perceiver, must still be met. What the perceiver can do, though, is

choose to accept a benign violation should one occur. A receptive state alone does

not result in a perception of humor; it merely opens the opportunity for one.

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Even if they grant receptivity, critics may suggest another argument against

the existence of necessary and sufficient conditions, especially the ones stated in

this paper. They do so by observing situations that may be classified as humor

under such conditions, but we are reluctant to believe should truly be called

humorous. For example, a sociopath may very well find it funny to commit serial

murders on his local college campus. In this scenario, the sociopath might meet all

the criteria: he might understand that what he is doing is a violation of norms, he

might perceive his actions as benign (thus his status as a sociopath), these

perceptions might occur simultaneously, and he might be in a mental state that

allows him to receive the situation as humor (again, sociopathy). Under these

condit ions, the sociopath’s situation seems to classify as humorous, yet we are

reluctant to admit it as such based on our own moral concerns in condoning such

behavior. To most, it is obvious that the situation is horrendous; it is anything but

funny. Critics may argue that such reluctance indicates that humor either has

limits beyond the necessary and sufficient conditions I have affirmed or is not truly

objective as I have claimed it to be. Neither of these is the case.

What this situation exemplifies very well is the notion of evaluative humor

versus descriptive humor. Both Weitz and Dickie discuss the difference between

these concepts to aid them in their own examinations of art. They note that the

phrase “work of art” can be employed descriptively or evaluat ively (as praise). Thus

far, I have been considering the definition of humor only in the descriptive sense,

that is, “to describe the conditions under which we employ the concept correctly . ” 21

When we reference our unwillingness to call something humor because of how far it

seems to deviate from some desired idea of what humor should be, we are thinking

of humor in the evaluative sense. Weitz writes, “for many, especially theorists, ’This

is a work of art’ does more than describe; it also praises. Its conditions of utterance,

therefore, include certain preferred properties or characteristics of art…the view

according to which to say of something that it is a work of art is to imply that it is a

21 Weitz, “The Role of Theory in Aesthetics,” 781.

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successful harmonization of elements. ” 22 By replacing “work of art” or “art” with the

word “humor” in this quote, one can see how “successful” humor would translate to

our understood notion of “good humor” in comparison, of course, to “bad humor.”

Intuitively, some might say the humor the sociopath experiences cannot be true

humor, but this is because they are supplanting descriptive humor with evaluative

humor; what they mean is that it cannot be good humor. The sociopath’s experience

of humor genuinely fulfills the required conditions, but it is recognized as

illegitimate because the conditions are not met for most other people. Rather than

being a false perception of humor, the sociopath’s perception is just bad humor, as it

does not meet the preferred criteria of matching the perception — the morally correct

one — that most people share.

In this paper, I compared two theories of humor: Hobbes’ Superiority Theory

and McGraw and Warren’s Benign Violation Theory. While I found BV Theory to be

much more descriptive of humor than the Superiority Theory, I found neither to

state the necessary and sufficient conditions for humor. I sought to determine what

condition(s) BV Theory was missing, and in doing so, added the relevance of mental

state to the conversation. I named this additional condition receptivity, which I

defined to be the ability or will of a person to determine or accept a situation to be a

benign violation. In considering counterarguments, I suggested how humor is not an

open concept and thus maintains necessary and sufficient conditions, defended my

condition of receptivity to be an objective condition, and distinguished descriptive

from evaluative humor. I hold that my revised version of Benign Violation Theory

maintains the necessary and sufficient conditions for humor, yet I humbly open it to

debate and discourse.

22 Weitz, 782.

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APA Dictionary of Psychology . Accessed December 9, 2022.

Dickie, George. “Defining Art.” In Philosophy for the 21 st Century: A Comprehensive Reader, edited by Stephen M. Cahn, 784-787. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003.

Hobbes, Thomas. The Elements of Law: Natural and Politic . Thornton, 1888.

“Humor." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Accessed March 28, 2023.

Lintott, Sheila. “Superiority in Humor Theory.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 74, no. 4 (October 25, 2016): 347 – 58. McGraw, Peter A. and Caleb Warren. “Benign Violations: Making Immoral Behavior Funny.” Psychological Science 21, no. 8 (August 1, 2010): 1141 – 49. McGraw, Peter A. and Caleb Warren. “Benign Violation Theory.” Encyclopedia of Humor Studies (2014): 75-77. https://leeds- Morreall, John. “Philosophy of Humor.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Last modified August 20, 2020.

Scruton, Roger, and Peter Jones. “Laughter.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes 56 (1982): 197 – 228. JSTOR (4106931).

TV Tropes. “Anti - Humor.” Accessed December 8, 2022.

Verywell Mind. “Are Your Emotions Out of Control?” Accessed December 9, 2022. Weitz, Morris. “The Role of Theory in Aesthetics.” In Philosophy for the 21 st Century: A Comprehensive Reader, edited by Stephen M. Cahn, 777-783. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003.

Volume VI (2023)


Liberation For the 99%

LIBERATION FOR THE 99% Catalina Buitano

Marist College


This paper will focus on determining whether racism, sexism, homophobia,

transphobia, and xenophobia are intrinsic characteristics of capitalism in the

United States, or if they are incidental to capitalism. If vessels of discrimination

and categorization are incidental, they can be eliminated from a capitalist society

without needing to dismantle the system entirely. I will argue that racism, sexism,

homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia are intrinsic characteristics of capitalism

in the United States. Therefore, legitimate liberation of marginalized people can

only be established after dismantling the entire system.



n recent debates over whether inequality is an inevitable product of capitalist

activity or not, some proponents continue to claim that racism, sexism,

homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia are not inherently intertwined

aspects of the capitalist system. On this view, proponents emphasize that

correlation is not causation, arguing that structural and social inequalities

prevalent in American society can be eradicated without dismantling the system. In

what follows, I utilize a Marxist lens to argue that racism, sexism, homophobia,

transphobia, and xenophobia are intrinsic characteristics of capitalism in the

United States rather than incidental to capitalism, which would entail that these

vessels of discrimination and categorization exist independently of capitalism and

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thus could potentially be eliminated from a capitalist society. More specifically,

focusing on the practical application of capitalism as it operates in praxis, I shall

argue that 1.) institutionalized discrimination in America can be explained via Karl

Marx’s theories of historical materialism and class consciousness; 2.) Attempts to

reform the capitalist system will be ineffective because institutionalized

discrimination is a prerequisite for its survival and reproduction. 3.) Neoliberalism

in capitalist societies still reinforces a culture that upholds capitalist ideals;

therefore, it cannot be an effective cure for social disparities.

I will proceed as follows in this paper. I begin by proffering a brief overview of

the different positions engaged in discourse regarding the nature of capitalism

within scholarly literature. Next, I will use a Marxist lens to examine the ongoing

racial, ethnic, sexual, and gender disparities that continue to face American society

and argue that institutionalized discrimination cannot be eradicated from the

capitalist system because it is a necessary element in its survival. I then show how

all accounts of Neoliberalism and liberal feminism are liable to falling prey to

‘pseudo - representation and false consciousness’ problems to support my claim that

capitalism and social and structural equality are incompatible. Finally, I respond to

two potential objections.

Historical Materialism, Ruling Class Theory, and Marx

Karl Marx, a 19th-century German philosopher and social theorist, offers his theory

of history to outline the relationship between a nation’s mode of production and the

material and social conditions society faces within a given historical epoch. Marx

first introduces historical materialism within his general theory of the motive forces

and laws of social change to examine history and generate solutions to social issues

in his work The German Ideology (1985). He argues that history is moved by

uprisings led by different actors against power structures and forces of oppression,

which, in simple terms, presupposes the evolution of the following historical period,


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Liberation For the 99%

which is essentially determined by the nature of the class relations within that

particular epoch. 1 Marx emphasizes that men begin to distinguish themselves from

animals when they begin creating their means of sustenance, which they are

conditioned to do by the tangible organizations that they are a part of. By

generating the means of sustenance, men are also inherently creating their

material life. In fact, the nature of the individual varies according to the material

conditions that determine their production, which is also dependent on the mode of

production which is characterized by different class relations between a dominant

and an oppressed class and, therefore, dictates the material conditions in society as

well as the nature of that specific epoch. Now that I have laid out one of the primary

tenets of Marxist theory, I will argue that institutionalized discrimination in

America can be explained via Karl Marx’s theories of historical materialism and

class consciousness.

Consider the case of the United States, for example, in which the capitalist

mode of production is controlled by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie, in this

instance, refers to the white upper class in America, while the proletariat refers to

the intersectional working class. According to a study conducted by the United

States Federal Reserve, the average Black and Hispanic household earns more than

half as much as their white counterparts and only owns approximately fifteen to

twenty percent as much net wealth 2 ; this highlights the disproportional distribution

of wealth within the capitalist system as well as the historical labor exploitation of

people of color and marginalized groups. Other scholarly literature identifies

various sources as being responsible for the observed racial disparities in earnings.

First, the departure of manufacturing plants and union jobs away from urban areas

1 Karl Marx, “The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 - Karl Marx,” Historical Materialism , no. 49, accessed October 6, 2023, philosophic-manuscripts-1844-karl-marx. 2 Aditya Aladangady and Akila Forde, “Wealth Inequality and the Racial Wealth Gap,” The Fed - Wealth Inequality and the Racial Wealth Gap , accessed October 6, 2023, gap-20211022.html.

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Diotima: The Marist Undergraduate Philosophy Journal

in the Midwest and Northeast. Second, international trade and immigration can

influence the wage gap by increasing the supply of ‘unskilled’ workers to perform

‘unskilled labor’ in exchange for reduced wages . 3 The capitalists’ prerogative is to

reduce the cost of production of a commodity (basic goods that can be bought or

sold), which involves decreasing the cost of labor by ensuring that the majority of

the workforce consists of unskilled workers. Unskilled workers are preferable to

skilled workers because the bourgeoisie does not have to compensate them for their

unskilled work and can generate more profit since workers will be more willing to

sell their labor to partake in “mindless” labor , which Marx claims is deeply

alienating for the proletariat. In fact, Black women made approximately 58% of

what non-Hispanic white males earned in 2022. 4 Unsurprisingly, Black men earned

76% of what white men earned in 2022 and Latinos earned 75%, 5 and so on and so

forth according to the racial hierarchy in America. It is highly likely that the

bourgeoisie utilize race and gender discrimination as tools to perpetuate the racial

and gender wage gaps that enable them to increase their profit margins. Put

simply, capitalism uses race and gender pay gaps, as well as other forms of labor

exploitation, to increase the amount of surplus value generated by decreasing the

costs of production, even though the actual amount of labor hours required to

manufacture the commodity remains the same.

Marx’s materialist conception of history is further developed via his theory of

estranged labor and ruling class theory. 6 According to his theory of estranged labor,

under the system of private ownership, society is divided into two classes: the

bourgeoisie, the property owners, and the proletariat, the propertyless workers who

3 Daniel Costa , “Labor Day 2019: Employers Increase Their Profits and Put Downward Pressure on Wages and Labor Standards by Exploiting Migra nt Workers,” Economic Policy Institute , accessed October 6, 2023, 4 Edmond Berisha, Ram Dubey, and Eric Olson, “Monetary Policy and the Racial Wage Gap,” Empir Econ 63, 3045 – 3059 (2022), 5 Siddhant Issar, “Listening to Black lives matter: racial capitalism and the critique of neoliberalism,” Contemporary Political Theory 20, 48 – 71 (2021). 00399-0. 6 Robert C Tucker ed., The Marx-Engels Reader 2nd ed., (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978), Internet Archive,


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Liberation For the 99%

face poverty and alienation as a result of the state of affairs. The first form of

estranged labor emerges because the worker sees the object his labor produces as

alien and hostile to himself because he sees it as a power independent from the

producer. Consequently, the object that labor produces is an expression of the

objectification of labor. 7 The worker puts his life in the object since, without the

sustenance that producing the object provides, he would ultimately starve; because

workers do not own property, they must sell their labor to survive. Not only do

propertyless workers not own property, but they also do not own the means of

production, and, therefore, the worker does not reap the fruits of his own labor. The

more the worker produces, the more alienated they become because everything that

he produces belongs to a world that he himself is excluded from; the worker cannot

possess what he helps create. The second form of estranged labor relates to the act

of production itself, labor, which he is forced to sell to fulfill the ‘needs external to

it.’ Marx claims that the activity of production is another expression of the worker’s

alienation because the worker only feels “like himself outside of work, and in his

work feels outside himself.” So, the act of labor represents his loss of self. The third

form of estranged labor manifests in the worker’s alienation from human identity

because work becomes the purpose of life for the human species, and the fourth is

the expression of estrangement from “man to man” in which the worker alienated

from and hostile towards the capitalist for appropriating the product of his labor. 8

Further support for Marx’s account of the different expressions of estranged

labor can be identified in the United States' mass exploitation of undocumented

migrants and members of the working class abroad. Specifically, I argue that the

capitalist system deliberately perpetuates xenophobia and racism abroad in order to

accomplish the following goals: 1) Desensitize members within the proletariat class

itself to the inhumane exploitation of undocumented migrants. 2) Maximizing the

7 Tucker, The Marx-Engels Reader , 72. 8 Tucker, The Marx-Engels Reader , 76.

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Diotima: The Marist Undergraduate Philosophy Journal

amount of profit, or ‘surp lus value, ’ generated from commodities while keeping the

cost of production (labor and materials) low.

Now I will address my claims that capitalism utilizes intersectional modes of

discrimination and prejudice to desensitize the white working class to the mass

exploitation of undocumented migrants. I argue that the capitalist system relies on

the creation of the ‘Us versus ‘Them’ in order to prevent the white working class

from unifying in solidarity with the People of Color working class to dismantle the

capitalist system. By convincing the white working class that BIPOC people are

their ‘real enemies’ as opposed to the dysfunctional capitalist system that owns

them both, they are trying to avoid mobilizing a unified working class and

revolution. In fact, equality is fundamentally incompatible with the capitalist

system because the superstructure simply could not have survived without it since

moving towards this state of equality would involve the dissolution of the race and

class relations that have allowed capitalism to exist. 9

Ruling class theory revolves first around the assumption that the materialist

conception of history and the division of labor can be utilized to explain why social

transformations occur in different historical epochs. The main premises of this

theory are 1) Within each historical epoch, there is a ruling class (property owners)

and an oppressed class (property-less workers). 2) The ruling class of each historical

epoch not only controls the means of production but also acts as societ y’s ruling

intellectual force and controls the means of material production. 10 3) This entails

that those who do not control the means of mental and material production are

subject to it. 4) Ruling ideas are merely an expression of the dominant material

relations, which are then also expressed as ideas that give rise to the respective

social and material conditions of that epoch.

9 Antonio Gramsci, Richard Bellamy, and Virginia Cox, Antonio Gramsci: Pre-Prison Writings (Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 24. 10 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto , (Atlanta: Pathfinder Press, 2008), 22.


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