Chapter 5. Laughing at the Wrong Time

The Negative Ethics of Humor

  1. John Morreall

Published Online: 11 NOV 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9781444307795.ch5

Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor

Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor

How to Cite

Morreall, J. (2009) Laughing at the Wrong Time, in Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781444307795.ch5

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 11 NOV 2009
  2. Published Print: 4 SEP 2009

Book Series:

  1. New Directions in Aesthetics

Book Series Editors:

  1. Dominic McIver Lopes1 and
  2. Berys Gaut2

Series Editor Information

  1. 1

    University of British Columbia, USA

  2. 2

    University of St Andrews, UK

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9781405196123

Online ISBN: 9781444307795



  • laughing at the wrong time as negative ethics of humor;
  • vices and virtues associated with humor;
  • consequentialist ethics and virtue ethics - seeing virtues as intrinsically valuable;
  • eight traditional moral objections;
  • linking humor with morally objectionable effects, as violence and sexual promiscuity;
  • Humor is insincere - non-bona-fide communication and action in humor;
  • Humor is irresponsible - disengaging from what we are doing or failing to do;
  • Humor is hedonistic - humor and other forms of play pursued for pleasure;
  • ethics of disengagement;
  • general ethical principle along lines of - “Don't play with fire”


This chapter contains sections titled:

  • Eight Traditional Moral Objections

  • The Shortcomings in the Contemporary Ethics of Humor

  • A More Comprehensive Approach: The Ethics of Disengagement

  • First Harmful Effect: Irresponsibility

  • Second Harmful Effect: Blocking Compassion

  • Third Harmful Effect: Promoting Prejudice