Marie C. Swabey
     The Comic as Nonsense, Sadism, or Incongruity

     
The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 55, No. 19 (Sep. 11, 1958), 819-833.
     
     THE nature of the comic is not, I venture to think, the insoluble problem it is sometimes taken to be. Rather the main difficulty with the subject has turned on the failure to distinguish normative from factual considerations, logical from naturalistic components of the field. To be sure, the search for common characters among the things that actually make us laugh seems almost hopeless; for anything and everything may upon occasion appear to do so : tickling, nervousness, relief from tension, nitrous oxide, a feeling of spite or one of exuberant health, or again mere social convention. In short, any number of bodily conditions, psychological and social circumstances may act as stimuli to effect the response. If the question is simply as to the causes of laughter and its empirical consequences, the inquiry has no limits because by the operation of the laws of association or conditioning a correlation can be established between almost any datum serving as trigger-action and the mechanism of risibility. Yet where all emphasis is placed upon what sets off laughter and the ensuing factual reactions, what it is about becomes irrelevant and the comic as such turns into a species of nonsense. So viewed the comic may include the laughter of the baby, the drunkard, the hysteric or idiot, the derision of pugnacity or aggression, the erotic often obscene jocosity due to the sexual urge, jollity expressive of the play impulse, the ambivalence of conflicting emotions, not to mention the limitless realm of habit formation and reflexes.
     If the problem for aesthetic criticism is simply what makes us laugh, the origin and utility of laughter—and not, on the contrary, what is worth laughing at, what states of affairs are essentially ridiculous or deserving of mirth (a question of value not of fact),— then the subject covers merely information regarding the laughter behavior of various societies together with a study of our constitutional make-up, and is undertaken only as a descriptive record for science and social control. Here the sensory-affective motor life of man is what is important, and there need be no point of a joke to be seen, no pattern of validity to be grasped, no insight into essential values to be made plain. This is often the view of naturalism and empiricism, a group including the logical positivists, instrumentalists, cultural relativists, and those whose outlook is bounded by that of the physical and social sciences of the day. For them the causes and methods of making men laugh are all-engrossing, whereas the content of what is laughed at is accepted as endlessly variable, while the question of its logical pattern or inherent value is held of no account.
     Typical in many ways of the naturalistic approach is that of the logical positivists. Although they have little or nothing to say of the comic directly, their attitude toward values and aesthetic values in particular is well known. To their forthright radicalism (especially in its earlier phases) philosophy is indebted for considerable clarification regarding the distinction between evaluative expression and assertions of fact. Writers like Carnap, Ayer, and Schlick placed great emphasis upon the empirical verification principle, and even where their views have undergone subsequent modification continue to deny that value judgments should be called propositions, since in their opinion there is no procedure for examining the value of the facts involved as distinct from the facts themselves. [1]
     "Every statement is either empirically verifiable, . . . analytic, or self-contradictory," [2] declared Carnap in a famous dictum, thereby relegating valuations of every sort to the status of pseudo-propositions (nonsense) or analytic sentences (verbal conventions) explicative of the meaning of their terms. "Actually," said Car-nap, "a value statement is nothing else than a command in a misleading grammatical form," [3] the expression of an emotional attitude, improvable, neither true nor false. This means that the experience of the comic and its object can only be correctly described in a factual language, in terms akin to those of the sciences, capable of observation and experimental check. Otherwise we speak tautologically or simply give vent to our feelings in pseudo-propositions which are nonsense. Thus, if I say "Ordinary domestic ducks are white," my statement has literal, objective significance because I have available scientific means by which to verify it; but if I say "Ducks are comical," meaning that they are inherently so, my assertion is unverifiable, since I can point to no instruments of observation or measurement that would certify it.
     But against this demand for factual knowledge and an emotive theory of values, a rationalist might protest. Unlike the positivist, who in the interests of sensation reduce;.' the laws of logic to mere tautological conventions, a rationalist acknowledges the primordial ontological validity of these laws as determinants of experience. Again, unlike the positivist for whom knowledge is rooted in sensation which is implicitly exclusive, particular, organic, he allows its grounding in reason which is general, inclusive, nonsomatic. [4] When he says "Ducks are comical" what he means to call attention to is an imbalance, a logical incongruity. This incongruity he finds between the duck's air-borne structure as a bird of flight and its aquatic structure as a swimmer, in the contrast between its flat bill, web feet, dumpiness, ungainly waddle on the one hand, and its wingedness, glossy feathers, far-sighted restless eyes on the other, a contrast culminating in its voice, that crowning absurdity the quack.
     Undeniably today with the growth of naturalism, the interpretation of the comic has increasingly lost its connection with intelligence and rational insight. Today the most popular theories of laughter explain it almost wholly in subjective and organic terms, such as ambivalent emotions, sexual desire, aggressiveness, the feeling of superiority (even Bergson's theory of "the mechanical encrusted upon the living" being but a variant of the superiority theory). Yet it should not be forgotten that Kant, on the contrary, held to the intellectual origin of the comic in "something absurd" and that it was "excited by ideas," accepting (as Schopenhauer did later) the logical incongruity theory. In this main contention Kant would seem to us to be right, as well as in maintaining that laughter conveys a sense of health or bodily well-being ; yet he would seem to be mistaken in his further point that that which arouses laughter affords no satisfaction to the understanding and is merely a "play with aesthetical ideas or of representations of the understanding through which ultimately nothing is thought." [5] Surely Kant is wrong in holding that nothing is gained or thought in the perception of the incongruous, since at the very least there is negative learning, the discovery of what is finally excluded as contradictory from the structure of things, human character, and societies; while on the positive side our acquaintance is enriched with regard to the possibilities of actuality. Logical thinking and not mere animal sufferance is required for apprehension of contradictions. By exposing fallacies in thought, language, and ways of living, minds alert to the ludicrous may contribute not a little to human progress. Bad habits may be laughed to death. By uncovering neglected shams, hypocrisies, illusions, vanities, and deceptions in the behavior of persons and societies, avoidance of error is promoted as well as knowledge of the truth. Neat presentations by the humorist of instances of men's vain conceit of their appearance, wealth, or wisdom, their pretensions to be what they are not, their illusions of grandeur, good looks, sagacity (as caught in various colloquialisms labeling the poseur, the pretty boy, the wind-bag, the know-it-all, the fore-flusher), while making us laugh, also remove in part our blindness with regard to certain factual and moral weaknesses in mankind. Similarly the sudden grasp of cases of contradiction between word and deed, of men not practicing what they preach, of talking one way and acting another, in tickling our sense of humor may enlighten us as to sources of wrong-doing in ourselves and others. As suggested, succinct portrayal of the patterns of warring traits that comprise such different types as the quack, the bore, the gossip, the snob, the busybody, the fop, the egotist, the miser, the lady-killer, and the siren may help us to recognize and to be on our . guard against certain deleterious tendencies of human nature. Acquisition of such knowledge, like the ability to classify diseases and to recognize their symptoms, is both of theoretical and practical advantage. But the deepest source of knowledge involved in the perception of the ludicrous we would venture to call metaphysical, as having to do with the structure of truth and reality. The standpoint of the comic raises itself, as it were, above the world, seeking to elude error by adopting an implicitly universal outlook and to survey events with an impartial eye. Through his effort to put himself in others place and to see himself as others see him, the humorist is able to reflect of even the most absurdly incongruous character, "there but for the grace of God go I." What we are suggesting is that in the perception of the comic there is a transcendental element of cosmic perspective. For the moment, at least, the humorist is a laughing philosopher out of this world, who sees bits of nonsense in a world that somehow makes sense, who grasps incongruities in a more comprehensive congruity, detects irrelevancies within an embracing relevancy, and finds contradictory sub-systems resolved in a non-contradictory entirety. In brief, he takes the world both from an over-all view and from a slant, both locally, empirically, and as a logician and metaphysician.
     Metaphysically, we would suggest, the very presupposition of the possibility of taking an impartial, objective attitude in judging the ridiculous involves an ontological argument as to the genuineness of the universe as a rational structure—by a reaffirmation in denial similar to that used by Descartes and others to prove the reality of truth and the self. For to maintain that the comic aesthetic judgment has objective insight into the irrelevant requires assuming the logical integrity of the universe in which thought has the cogency to show forth such irrelevance with relevance. On the other hand, to deny that thought has the power to grasp irrelevance objectively is to operate on the assumption that thought has the capacity to disprove its own pertinence, which power is only possible on the presupposition of thought's ability to grasp objective irrelevancy owing to the logical structure of things. In other words, in our opinion the naturalists in aesthetics who maintain that the field of the comic is finally under the constraint of non-rational processes do so only by tacitly taking for granted that the soundness of their demonstration is confirmed by the logic of the cosmic scheme supporting it.
     If we are right, the perception of the comic, besides involving emotional and physiological responses, requires logical and metaphysical comprehension, a normative intellectual insight which grasps what is worthy of laughter, what in a state of affairs is laughable and not merely what makes us as organic creatures laugh. Just as logic when compared with psychology is normative, in that the ways in which we often actually think are very different from the valid ways in which we ought to think, just as the rules of arithmetic differ from our blundering additions and subtractions, just as the moral law or golden rule serves to contrast how we ought to act with how we often do, so what is comical (i.e., deserving of mirth) is often very different from what upon occasion we actually laugh at. By means of humor, as Kant says, through a certain originality of spirit one is able to put oneself into a mental disposition or outlook in which everything is judged quite differently than ordinarily, though still in accordance with rational principles. While this transition to a novel standpoint, in our view, involves an exhilaration arising from an intellectual insight, it has also, as Kant allows, its animal side involving relaxation from tension and a feeling of health. Yet, as we see it, at the lees of comic laughter lies not simply the pleasure of bodily equilibrium or health but a sense of total well-being or harmony. When Kant describes laughter as "an affection arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing," he regards the subject from a bodily point of view—not from the intellectual point of view of incongruity—since he remarks that this transformation is not enjoyable to the understanding, but has at best only a reflex effect on the mind. To us, on the contrary, it is the perception of a local incongruity as incapable of truth and reality against the normative background of a universal relevancy that affords the basic satisfaction of the comic perception. Thus, in our view, a comic mistake is possible, as when we laugh at what we take to be a contradiction in the object which is not really present in it, but arises from our faulty understanding, as when the farmer on first seeing a giraffe exclaimed "There ain't no such animal." Here the comic mistake is itself comic. In a sense most jokes involve logical fallacies, although not all logical fallacies are jokes (i.e., not all logical fallacies have to do with subjects closely related to human affairs or treated in a spirit not gravely serious or important).
     Of course, since the comic is a referent of human discourse— since we are not dealing with the laughter of the gods,—what is laughable cannot be entirely irrelevant to human health and existence; its content (like that of the beautiful) cannot be wholly unhealthy or vitally destructive. As is often said, comedy involves an affirmation of life. Thus murders, wars of extermination, the progress of an epidemic or mortal disease, starvation and death are not ordinarily chosen as comic subjects. Against this statement may, of course, be cited the current fashion of gruesome mysteries, tales of violence and homicide, in which involved schemes of treachery and mayhem are treated not only as of paramount interest but often as laughing matters. In these stories the worst catastrophes are taken as affording a grim humor, the meanest revenges are used to wring sardonic smiles from the audience, while the characters themselves converse in explosive wisecracks (presumed to be funny) as in the "balloons" of "horror comics." But perhaps instead of being really humorous, such so-called "comedies" of the genre of Arsenic and Old Lace, of child murders, besotted drunkards, and mechanical super-men, are only signs of aesthetic confusion.
     At any rate there is a long tradition sanctifying a distinction between tragedy and comedy. Comedy, it is held, faces the sudden reversals of fortune and vital threats to its characters with a lightness, a buoyancy suffused with a sense of jovial well-being far removed from the mood of pity and terror excited by tragedy. Whereas comedy turns on awareness of absurdities provoking laughter, in which adversity is gaily treated and the values of life are not finally threatened, tragedy provides its audience with a sense of fear and pity at the spectacle of human existence. Man suddenly perceives a gulf opening at his feet, a chasm of insecurity; he quakes at his own insignificance, feeling like a cliff-hanger facing imminent doom ; yet in the great tragedies he gains somehow from the spectacle of his creature annihilation a sense of moral law akin to the sublime. That is, in tragedy, along with the perception of the gravity and mystery of man's destiny, there is a cloudy sense of justice amid the pain. In comedy also, although the treatment is not solemn or important, there is at bottom an intimation of an evening-up, a balance in the nature of things. Yet while in comedy the zest for living is furthered without the total scheme of life and values being endangered, in tragedy both are at stake and the revelation of enduring values comes only with the destruction of life after everything has been cast into jeopardy.
     Since experience of the comic centers in the perception of a contradiction or absurdity, it is rooted in the principles of consistency according to which everything is either a or non-α, or a case of them, and not both, at the same time in the same respect. Thus if the comic lies in an incongruity that makes sense (a), then that which is exhaustively excluded is one that is non-sense (non-α). But the term "non-sense" is often loosely used, sometimes only as a contrary or relative opposite (exclusive but not exhaustive), sometimes as a real contradictory. For instance, the distinction of nonfrom a in the case of non-red from red covers under the genus "non-red" the colors green, blue, yellow as well as that which has no color. Similarly the term non-sense    (non-α) as opposed to sense (a) may include—besides all sorts of formal and material inconsistencies (the so-called fallacies), confusions of different universes of discourse, etc.—nonsense in the extreme form of the alogical, the totally meaningless or senseless. But this last, in our opinion, is debarred from the range of the comic altogether.
     Since the ludicrous involves perception of an absurdity, it excludes mere silliness, utter foolishness, senselessness. The humorous encounter must yield not blindness but an insight. Awareness of the comic requires an intellectual process, not mere confrontation of a blank wall, but perception of a point. It must be about something, not about nothing; it must have some specific pertinence, gist, nub, import, drift; one must be able to get the hang or pattern of it. Pure nonsense as signifying utter meaningless-ness or absence of rationality is not funny; for this one needs a play of thought, not its extinction, the detection of an incongruence canceled by an underlying congruence. Put otherwise, this is to say that the comic has always a method in its madness, a logic, and that it can never involve a total violation of logical laws.
     Considering the extreme fashions in "nonsense humor" today, bizarre efforts to win the game by kicking over the table and disregarding all the rules of reason and discourse, the point is not without importance. Indeed, as it appears to me, the two outstanding effects on humor of the naturalism of our times are, on one side, the attempt to appeal to nonsense of an entirely senseless sort, and, on the other, to appeal to cruelty, brutality, to what can only in principle be called sadism. The first arises apparently from the current preoccupation with the organic stimulus-response mechanism of laughter to the disregard of its meaning ; and the second from stress upon the natural egotism of the human animal, which gains a feeling of superiority from spiteful criticism and the infliction of pain with anaesthesia of the heart increasing proportionately. This last raises the question whether progress is currently to be found in the realm of the comic, whether we have really outgrown the brutal jibes of an earlier day at the cripple, the dwarf, the hunchback, the idiot, as well as the cutthroat ribaldry of political satire once used to crucify public men.
     To come to the point boldly : in our opinion, if experience is not to dissolve into a welter without distinctive meaning, reference, or definition of terms, both logical laws and moral standards must remain effective in the realm of the comic. Let us begin with the logical requirements. Admittedly the discovery and creation of the comical is like inventing and taking part in a game. Participation in it involves a kind of sport, a contest of skill, acceptance of a set of rules or what is called today more abstractly a postulational system. Success in such a system involves committing oneself both to a freely chosen, local set of conventions and to the necessary, inclusive principles of rationality. Whether the content of the game be that of Boolean algebra, a non-Euclidean geometry, a Disney cartoon, or the Brobdingnagian world of Swift, the very criteria of the system, the meaningful unity and integrity of the exercise of wit involved require not only abiding by the stipulations chosen, operating according to the elected scheme of rules, but also adhering to the laws of thought and inference. Everywhere in thinking there are two sets of requirements: those involving the postulates from which we reason and those involving the principles in accordance with which we reason: (1) the first, free assumptions of a point of view, optional conveniences, differing from one scheme of thought to another, and (2) the second, a group of comprehensive regulations necessary to all systems, the basic logic of sanity or rationality. These latter are the principles of consistency and inference. As such they are not factual (psychical or physical) laws but canons of validity, constituting the comprehensive framework of both thought and things, principles whose certification is discursive in that they are reaffirmed in their very denial. For since all thinking and intelligent action require referents of a certain scope, rules of procedure involving cases and their inclusion or exclusion, together with notions of negation and totality, all thinking and intelligent action presuppose the laws of thought (identity, contradiction, excluded middle) as well as the rule-case-result composing inference and sufficient reason. That these principles are not mere optional conveniences for ordering discourse and behavior but constitutive necessities is shown by their universal acceptance as criteria even in the attempt to refute them. Throughout our changing world, theoretical knowledge, practical success, and predictiveness remain only possible on the assumption of the determinate constitution, unchanging relations, and relevancies of things. Interwoven with these logical canons are standards of truth and morality: of truth in the requisites of integrity, consistency, systematic harmony in the game and its playing; and of morality in the obligation of promise-keeping, of uniformity in conforming to the code laid down, doing what you agreed to do, or otherwise being guilty of a breach of contract.
     Needless to say, both sets of assumptions operate throughout the realm of the comic, even though awareness of comic incongruity arises from an attempt to violate either or both of them. Because the universe is one in many realms of being and discourse, it harbors within it one comprehensive, necessary set of operations as well as many alternative schemes of procedure. The incongruity which is comic may arise either from (1) a transgression of our local commitments, as where we deviate suddenly from our accepted code of conventions, or where two or more of our adopted codes collide, or (2) when we become aware of an infringement in the content of our thought of the basic inclusive logic—whereby we are guilty of the formal incongruity of reductio ad absurdum or presupposition in denial.
     (1) Variants of the first type of incongruity are almost endless. Sometimes the contradiction occurs through a lapse in operating in accordance with the postulates of a particular field: as in a slip of behavior (gaucherie )or in a slip of the tongue. Again the humorist may purposely deviate from his accepted rules of language, syntax, rhyme, meaning of terms, or realm of discourse. For instance, a poet like Ogden Nash introduces false or weakened rhymes and nonsense words occasionally into poems seemingly committed to a conventional language and rhyme scheme with decided comic effect.
     A girl who is bespectacled Dont even get her nectacled But safety pins and basinets Await the girl who fascinets. [6]
     Or again nonsense ideas and words may be used in a poem apparently committed to the categories of the everyday world, as in Edward Lear's Nonsense Songs,
     The lands where the jumblies live
     Their heads are green and their hands are blue
     And they went to sea in a sieve.
     Countless material fallacies (e.g., equivocation or ambiguity) are laughable for the same reason (as in the orator's opening statement, "Aristotle said that all men are rational. Nothing was said about women"). The same humorous result may be achieved by introducing some object deviant from common sense into a common sense world, e.g., an imp, or as in a late Broadway play, an hallucinatory man-sized rabbit. Or laughable incongruities may be obtained by viewing the same objects from two or more opposing standpoints at the same time with a consequent collision of categories. For instance, Carl Sandburg ("The People, Yes") tells yarns
     Of a skyscraper so tall they had to put hinges
     On the two top stories so as to let the moon go by.
     Here the discrepancy between the distances involved in astronomy and those involved in human architecture constitute the absurdity. Indeed, much of the stock in trade of theatrical and literary humor is to be found in contradictions between different universes of discourse employed in narration; as in the incompatibilities between seems and is, polite conventions and raw human nature, men's thoughts and behavior, the customs of different societies, or between the postulates of different worlds, as in the talking animals of Alice in Wonderland, Lear, Disney, Thurber, and others who have scrambled the rules of the human scene hilariously with those of the animal kingdom.
     (2) There is another class of comic incongruities which arise not from conflicts due to the peculiarities of alternative fields, but from a contradiction between the content of a thought and its form in an unrestricted sense as involving the basic logic common to all worlds. Such contradictions differ from the contrarieties arising within the subject matter of optionally chosen fields, in that the content by conflicting with the most general principles is seen to be self-refuting on formal logical grounds. As instances, we may cite the man on the gallows whose last words were "This will certainly be a lesson to me," or Sandburg's yarn of "the man so tall, he had to climb a ladder to shave himself," or of the man who looked into the window to see if he was home, or of the one who, in answer to the question whether he was married or unmarried replied, " Neither, I 'm just experimenting." Again, there is Mark Twain's famous account of his interview with the cub reporter, to whom he disclosed that he was born one of identical twins known apart only by pink and blue ribbons,—the story culminating in the statement, "We were twins, defunct and I. One of us was drowned in the bathtub. That was I." In such jokes the contradiction between the content of thought and the basic logic turns on a reductio ad absurdum or reaffirmation in denial which is self-refuting.
     To repeat, if experience is not to dissipate into a fog without distinctive meaning, reason must remain reason and values values. Despite allowance for the widest choice of stipulations, all universes of discourse must conform to the basic logic of consistency and inference which involves canons of truth and morality: of truth in the requirements of rational probity and systematic harmony ; and of morality in the obligation to conform to the assumptions accepted, rectitude in keeping one's pledges in practice. Our answer to the question why the comic cannot be totally freed from moral and rational canons is that a completely hodge-podge, jumbly world would have no discriminable qualities or meanings sufficient to denote the comic. A limit is reached in siphoning off rationality and value from the world, in making light and as of no moment the weightiest matters of life, a limit found in the comic with the discovery that certain values like formal truth, the obligation to operational integrity, and a kind of law of compensation are built into the very structure of experience itself.
     Let us begin with the relation of the comic to morality. Those who defend the complete freedom of art and expression maintain that the jokesmith, the comedian, the literary humorist must not only have unrestricted liberty in his choice of subject matter (which may include unlimited immorality, crime, madness, neuroses, and pessimism) but also may treat it as he pleases—with a heart of stone, if his mood inclines him, and complete scorn of moral standards. To this, the reply already given by a rationalist is that humor will have no point, the comic will not be comic, unless respect for rational man and the rules of rationality are included. These remain supreme even when the comic incongruity turns on the tacit acceptance of conflicting codes and the ensuing clash of their postulates. To be sure, a slight deviation from the rules (if not serious enough to threaten the meaning of the game) may constitute a comic incongruity. But at the same time it constitutes a moral fault. For any inconsistency in thought is cheating, a breach of obligation in not keeping the conventions of the code. The very meaning of the game requires invariance, regularity in the handling of cases, dealing with persons and subject matter one as another, admitting no favorites or exceptions. (Even if inconsistent treatment should be the rule agreed on, it must be consistently applied if the scheme is to have significance on its own terms. ) Because reason is universal and thinking operates through the universal, the comic cannot be freed from moral categories. In comic thinking as in other thinking, the operator like the operand, the author no less than his characters, must be subject to the same basic rules. Since self-reference is involved in universal reference, [7] if total amoralism be the postulate of the comic the same irresponsible, unscrupulous treatment meted out to the puppets may be allotted to the puppeteer. There is the rub. If uniformity implies that in destroying respect for the subject matter, respect is also destroyed for its proponent, the game becomes suicidal, self-refuting. Once the ridiculer finds himself subject to the same ridicule he heaps on those he makes ridiculous, and finds others dealing him the same unbounded contempt he dealt them, he cries no play and quits the game.
     Because the brackets of abstraction placed today around the field of the comic will not stay bracketed, but the same logic inevitably extends from object to subject, from make-believe to first person actual, a rationalist must deny the independence of the comic from morals and protest any preoccupation with battle, murder, and sudden death in the media of light entertainment, in channels professedly meant to convey jollity and good humor. There is, for example, the modern fashion of the weird and the gruesome in so-called humorous magazines and "horror comics," where the ruthless, inconsequential treatment of violence may possibly be an index of moral and aesthetic decay. Such things occur in all manner of instances from the current (supposedly jocose) sally "Drop dead!" to popular cartoons like that representing the ghoulish owners of a mansion waiting in fiendish glee upon the roof to drop boiling oil and boulders upon the Christmas carolers before their door. Admittedly, many violations of the moral code, hypocrisies, and stupidities, if not involving vital threats to human values and existence, yield comic incongruity; but in the case of heartless brutality and widespread destruction, the logic of such a world becomes self-refuting, since it would destroy respect for life, character, and codes altogether. A rationalist's objection to amoral humor is that it is finally self-stultifying. The principles of amoralism which such a "humorist" blithely applies to others and to an imaginary world in his script, drawings, or game of wit ultimately return to his own world and himself. In the long run the logic of a realm in which vice is treated like virtue, inhumanity like humanity, the fiendish like the friendly, the decent like the depraved must finally by evading all responsibility to law and order drown itself in a chaos of nonsense.
     But a large share of the generally recognized comic, it may be said in reply, has to do with a world of fancy in which the ordinary rules of life do not hold. Not only do animals, and even chairs, stones, and pokers talk and act like human beings, but characters pass through locked doors and even key-holes ; they sustain mortal blows and eat deadly concoctions without apparent injury. Everywhere the impossible takes the place of the possible. Once the operative canons of our world be changed, it may be said, why may not such fates as boiling in oil, drawing and quartering, impaling on spears, hammering to pulp, marinating in machinery, and tortures of all sorts be meted out as comic fare to unpopular characters. Even in Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, and so-called nonsense humor, a certain anaesthesia of the heart is clearly present. Hearing the shrill cry of the duchess "Off with her head!" or gazing at the chill, gorgonlike visages of various eggheads and other droll characters in the illustrations of Tenniel and Lear, the spectator has a sense of his veins turning to ice water. Even the attempt, as was said earlier, to elude all responsibility by equating the comic with sheer nonsense or foolishness cannot suffice. In the very attempt to kick over the table, to deny all rules, the operator is driven back at least upon the rule that there shall be no rules, that the meaningless shall appear in a frame of boundary meanings, that the stipulations he applies to others apply to himself; that instead of anything following anything indifferently, there shall be a method in the madness, a consistency in its inconsistency, an intelligible logic that makes humorous nonsense distinct from nonsense pure and simple.
     The latent rationale and morality at the base of the comic, we may conclude, is something like that involved in gambling. In either case, rigid suppression destroys free reflection, action, and choice. Yet where there is no control of gambling (and no rational norms of the comic), where notions of the improbable receive unlimited encouragement from society in the form of lotteries and games of chance, the emotional powers of imagination get out of hand, leading to senseless extravagance in thought and behavior. The mind, through dwelling upon the potentiality of certain rare frequencies, comes to confuse the unlikely with the likely, to take what is not impossible as not merely possible but probable, to believe that since the lightning must strike somewhere it will strike here. In short, recklessness and heedlessness lead it to disregard consideration of the enormous number of alternative chances at stake, as well as their weight in the premises, and to focus on some particular outcome. Believers in luck or the goddess Fortuna tend to deny that the preponderance of evidence should govern conclusions and balance accounts between grounds and consequents, holding instead to hope of a rare chance in which the idle reap, the thoughtless thrive, and fools sit in the seats of wise men. Instead of the logic of measure for measure, an evened score between evidence and outcome, desert and reward (that is, instead of allowing the operation of logical justice and compensation) they hold that absurdities and improbabilities rule the world. Nor is it difficult to see how, in a universe so conceived, moral principles decline, since in a world in which logic has lost its supremacy, things are not repaid in kind, those worth least properly get most ; reciprocity and equivalence being jettisoned as normative principles and the idea discarded of a universe in which "with what measure you mete it shall be measured to you again" and of a way of life in which one should do as he would be done by.
     
     [1] Ayer, A. J., Philosophical Essays, 1954, p. 237.
     [2] The Unity of Science, 1934, p. 28.
     [3] Philosophy and Logical Syntax, 1935, p. 24.
     [4] Whereas to the rationalist there is no contradiction in adopting a transcendent point of view, in conceiving the world with Dante as a divine comedy, for the naturalist, on the contrary, to whom knowledge centers in an immediate confrontation by a particular percipient occupying a specific locus in a space-time matrix, such an assertion is nonsense. He cannot, like the rationalist, by carrying the notion of his experience to the limit grasp the idea of omnipresence, omniscience, omnisentienee. He can admit no universal experience in itself as a variable, no perception-in-general. Nevertheless, the positivist is forced to admit verifiability in principle (and that "there is nothing in an experience considered by itself ... to make it form part of one person's history rather than another's" (Ayer))—which to a rationalist seems tacit admission of the point at issue, that is, of perception-in-general as a thing in itself as transcendent as the God of theology.
     [5] Critique of Judgment, trans, by Bernard, 1951, p. 176.
     [6] "Lines Written to Console Ladies Distressed by the Lines 'Men dont make passes at girls who wear glasses,' " Private Dining Boom.
     
[7] To those who deny this, and who hold that statements about the fields of logic and morals are not themselves logical and moral statements (by taking refuge in a so-called metalanguage of a "higher order"), it may be replied that, if this were so, such statements would lose their force and ex-haustiveness and no longer mean what they purport to mean. The attempt to claim that the totality one thinks about and refers to in language is never the genuinely inclusive totality of the field involves contradiction, since at the least one must think about and designate this unrestricted totality in order to reach the positivist's conclusion that it is undesignatable linguistically, (cf. Swabey, Marie C., Logic and Nature, 2nd ed., 1955, p. 65.)
     
     
     

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