In this talk, Professor Alfano explores the moral significance and value of humour and laughter, including - and perhaps especially - during dark and difficult circumstances. A sense of humour, he argues, governs both contempt and hope. Laughter is thus a way of rising above the object of one's contempt, whether that object is a medical condition, a tyrant, or unworthy aspects of oneself. While maintaining a sense of humour enables people to deal psychologically with their troubles and sorrows, there is also a deeper moral significance to humour that points the way to a future in which our contemporary troubles are regarded from "above" and "at a distance". Surveying ourselves from this perspective, even if we recognise that it's a perspective that we will never occupy, can lend us hope and the resolve to work towards that future. Alfano concludes by connecting these themes with Simone Weil's idea that ethics is grounded in basic human needs. He argues that, among our other needs, we require a sense of our innermost selves as both immune to the most dire assaults and capable of accomplishing something valuable on this earth. The contempt expressed and the hope afforded by a sense of humour answer, respectively, to these needs.
About Professor Mark Alfano
Mark Alfano, PhD is Associate Professor of Ethics and Philosophy of Technology at Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands and Professor of Philosophy at Australian Catholic University.
The Simone Weil Lecture on Human Value was first held in 2000, an initiative of Professor Raimond Gaita. It is a public lecture held annually in Brisbane and Melbourne.
Each year, a distinguished international scholar is invited to give a public lecture and academic seminar at ACU. The lectures are inspired by Simone Weil’s ethical vision that is rooted in attentive compassion and obligation to others, her unstinting desire for the Good, and her non-negotiable commitment to justice.
An archive of past Simone Weil lectures is available via the menu on the left-hand side of this page.