Laughing matters.

Author:Oden, Thomas C.
Position:Correspondence - Letter to the Editor

I am gratified that much of my assessment of Kierkegaard's humor is confirmed by a critic as distinguished and rigorous as David B. Hart (see "The Laughter of the Philosophers," January).

In his critique, Mr. Hart has focused intently on a single sentence concerning the gauntlet that the book lays down, which is simple and explicit: "Bundle together any other ten philosophers who have made a major impact in the history of philosophy. I challenge any reader to assemble a selection of humor from all of them put together that is funnier than what you find in this volume of Kierkegaard." What I intended as a provocative metaphorical goad, Hart took literally as a definite and categorical challenge, which I welcome. Whether his candidate, J. G. Hamann, has indeed had a major impact on the history of philosophy, or whether he in fact is a philosopher, Hart himself debates. It is only when someone produces a book on the humor of Hamann (plus nine other philosophers) that by some form of common consent exceeds The Humor of Kierkegaard that the question of who is the funniest can begin to be settled. Meanwhile the gauntlet remains down.

Against Kierkegaard's light-hearted charge that latitudinarian Danish Christendom has become something like a "'Christian' whorehouse," Mr. Hart surprised me by going so far as to argue that indeed "there are 'Christian' whorehouses." This made me want to learn a lot more than I presently know. It is dubious that such Kierkegaardian analogies are more vitriolic than Mr. Hart's own favorite whimsical anecdote about Schopenhauer throwing an old lady down the stairs. Which is funnier is a question of aesthetic assessment about which reasonable persons can disagree.

I have made entirely clear my sole criterion for making these selections: Are they funny to me? What other criterion would have been possible to an anthologist of humor? I leave it entirely to others to judge whether portions of the book are funny. I respect their judgment and hope they will recognize mine as a feeble attempt to do justice to the task, however necessarily subjective it is. From the outset I warned my reader that many of these episodes are "merely a droll analogy, witty reasoning, or a ridiculous metaphor."

Hart would have preferred a shorter volume. Many seasoned Kierkegaard readers have a favorite story and would have been outraged had I left it out. I did not include every anecdote but preferred to err by amplitude rather than by paucity.

Thomas C. Oden

Department of Theology

Drew University

Madison, New Jersey

For the sake of a Christianity that is philosophically informed and exploratory, I strongly protest David B. Hart's comments on Immanuel Kant in the January issue of FIRST THINGS. Mr. Hart dismisses the texts of Kant's philosophical maturity, presumably including all three Critiques, as well as the Prolegomena and the Groundwork, on account of their "sublime spiritual sterility." It is hard for me to believe that Mr. Hart has ever read these works with any care, if at all. He has almost certainly not read Karl Jaspers' little book on Kant, nor has he, even though an Eastern Orthodox theologian, apparently paid much attention to the writings of Nicolas Berdyaev. Although not a Christian by profession, Jaspers' philosophy was Christian in many of its tenets, and he was also systematically Kantian. Jaspers' book on Kant brings out the Prussian philosopher's rich spiritual resources. Berdyaev, whose writings seem to me quite the opposite of spiritually sterile, admired Kant above all other philosophers, and he counted himself, at least at times, a...

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