Pragmatism’s Promise

One of the many definitions of “dialectic” is “a method of examining and discussing opposing ideas in order to discover the truth”; another is “discussion and reasoning by dialogue as a method of intellectual investigation.”  On either definition, Richard J. Bernstein is indisputably the most proficient and prolific dialectician working in philosophy today. His style has centered on the close reading of important figures who at first glance have little to do with  …

EssaysTheory & Practice

Humor and the Social Condition

In a series of posts, Jeff Goldfarb and I have been sketching an outline for the study of the social condition — the predictable dilemmas that haunt social life. We argue that one of the core intellectual missions of sociology is to account for the ways in which social patterns set up these dilemmas that actors experience as crucial for their lives and how they define themselves.

Social life, as anyone who is in the business of living knows, is riddled with ambiguities and contradictions. But these contradictions and dilemmas are not only the stuff tragedies and epics are made of. As importantly, they include materials from which comedy is crafted. If we attend to the structure of humor, we can see that jokes work precisely because they shine light on dilemmas that are built into the social fabric. Thus, one of the core insights of the study of the comic is that it depends on telling two stories at the same time (what Arthur Koestler called “bi-sociation”). …