DANIEL ABRAHAMS

Philosopher of Humour, Heritage and Community

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ABOUT DANIEL ABRAHAMS

Philosopher From Toronto

I follow an interest in how mass art mediates our relationship with each other and the world at large. Right now that is centred around satire and commemoration. This leads me into the philosophical areas of aesthetics, humour, social epistemology, language, and ethics.

 

PUBLICATIONS

THE IMPORTANCE OF HISTORY TO THE ERASING HISTORY DEFENCE

Forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Philosophy

A paper about commemorative monuments (and other honourifics) and the "erasing history" defence. I put together a charitable way of understanding the claim that removing monuments to ethically bad historical figures constitutes erasing history, and show how to respond while taking seriously the importance of the historical past. I use the context of John A Macdonald because I am hopelessly Canadian.

WINNING OVER THE AUDIENCE: HUMOUR AND TRUST

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (2020)

I examine the role of trust in stand-up comedy. I look at how stand-ups have to build the trust of the audience to get the audience to accept their jokes. This makes particularly good sense of ethically dubious humour, where the comedian has to convince the audience that it is permissible for the audience to participate.

The Social Account of Humour
Canadian Journal of Philosophy (2021)

I argue that a theory of humour should first and foremost regard humour as something people do. In contrast to internalist theories of humour, which primarily engage humour in terms of an emotional or emotion-like experience, I provide a theory which primarily views humour as a practice centred on evoking laughter. I show that this theory is useful in engaging humour as a social phenomenon, and include novel approaches to ethical evaluation and looking at humour from the perspective of a joke's target.

Trust and The Appreciation of Art (with Gary Kemp)
Radio (2022)

Does trust play a significant role in the appreciation of art? If so, how does it operate? We argue that it does, and that the mechanics of trust operate both at a general and a particular level. After outlining the general notion of ‘art-trust’—the notion sketched is consistent with most notions of trust on the market—and considering certain objections to the model proposed, we consider specific examples to show in some detail that the experience of works of art, and the attribution of art-relevant properties or characterisations to works of art, very often involves the notion of trust; in such cases—perhaps most or even, implicitly, all—the question ‘Do I trust the artist (or art-maker)?’, is inescapable.

Statues, History, and Identity: How Bad Public History Statues Wrong
Journal of the American Philosophical Association (2022)

There has recently been a focus on the question of statue removalism. This concerns what to do with public history statues that honour or otherwise celebrate ethically bad historical figures. The specific wrongs of these statues have been understood in terms of derogatory speech, inapt honours, or supporting bad ideologies. In this paper I understand these bad public history statues as history, and identify a distinctive class of public history-specific wrongs. Specifically, public history plays an important identity-shaping role, and bad public history can commit specifically ontic injustice. Understanding bad public history in terms of ontic injustice helps understand not just to address bad public history statues, but also understand the value of public history more broadly.

 

TALKS DELIVERED

Taming the Culture War: A Theory of Why People Fight Over Humour

In one way or another, humour seems to frequently play a central role in culture war battles.  Rather than engage culture war issues on their own terms, what I want to do is engage at a prior point and ask what is it about humour that makes humour and humourists contested in the first place. My main contention will be that humour is seen as valuable and values can confer legitimacy. This leads to values becoming goods so that parties can hoard sources of legitimacy. When values confer legitimacy, values become goods. What I have to show, then, is what it is about humour that leads people to see it as conferring legitimacy. Legitimacy means right to rule, so I want to tease out the different ways that humour can be taken to confer that right to rule.

The Role of Trust in Aesthetic Appreciation

I argue that trust can play a role in the practice of art appreciation. As part of the process of art appreciation, the audience questions the actions or intentions involved in creating an artwork. Their evaluation of the work may depend on whether they trust an artwork’s creator to successfully and competently enact these actions and intentions. The main focus of the paper is on what domain it is by which the audience trusts an artwork’s maker. I identify two broad domains of trust, competence and intentions, and show two different ways in which each domain is relevant to art appreciation. I connect these domains of trust with art appreciation by showing how standard appreciative practices engage authorial or otherwise work-making intentional actions.

WHAT INTERNALIST THEORIES OF HUMOUR CANNOT SAY ABOUT ETHICAL EVALUATION

The dominant theories of humour in analytic philosophy are internalist theories: they locate humour within the body. I argue that this necessarily leads to a particular, limited approach to the ethical evaluation of humour. This approach cannot meet certain desiderata for a theory of ethical evaluation of humour.

THE PEOPLE'S PAST: DEMOCRATIC CONSTRAINTS ON MEMORIALS AND PUBLIC HISTORY

Forms of democracy appeals to some idea of "the people" for legitimacy. Public history is one way of defining, at least in part, who "the people" are. Accordingly, public history should be constructed in a way that shapes the people in an ethically-acceptable way.

THE DOUBLE BIND OF AUTHENTICITY: HUMOUR, TRUST AND CELEBRITY

I approach celebrity as a type of parasocial relationship, and examine the relationship between humour and parasociality. I argue that celebrity presents a kind of double bind: the simultaneously appear authentic and conform to audience expectations.

WINNING OVER THE AUDIENCE

About the importance of trust in both humour and stand-up comedy. I argue that humour depends, in part, on establishing a relationship between the humourist and the audience. The humourist must earn the trust of the audience for both that she is joking, and what she is joking about.

Aretai Annual Conference 4: Virtues, Media and Democracy

September 27, 2019, Genoa

THE POLITICS SATIRE MAKES

What should we expect from satire in terms of changing people's political beliefs? I expand from previous focus on mass media mock news to include a section on social media. I conclude that we shouldn't expect much in terms of changing beliefs, but that might just be because beliefs are the wrong place to be looking for effects.

LIKE HIM OR NOT: DEFENCES OF JOHN A MACDONALD AND HOW TO RESIST THEM

About the "erasing history" defence, and how to engage attempts to deflect from the admirability of historical figures.

Annual Meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics

October 11, 2018, Toronto

THE SOCIAL ACCOUNT OF HUMOUR

I offer a way of understanding humour as a social act. A look at the historical diversity of humour practice suggests that a social account is morely likely to be true than current pyschological ones.

PREACHING TO THE CONVERTED: SATIRE IN POLITICAL CONTEXT

I argue that mass media political satire should not be expected to change the minds of its targets. This is because the dynamics of mass media lead to mass media shows being delivered almost exclusively to people who already accept a show's ideological thrust. The targets of the satiric attack have little reason to care about the satirist's criticism.