The philosopher Wittgenstein famously said in Culture and Value: “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.” My interest in this article is to analyze what Wittgenstein here means.

In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein described the task of philosophy as being “to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.” Humor has a certain way of cutting through language, of getting to the truth of whatever game is at hand. Often jokes take the form of commenting on some game of language, some misuse or limit, and then they exploit it. They make the violation of language game benign through the disinfectant of sunlight: this is very similar to showing the fly the way out of the fly-bottle. Indeed, in this sense, philosophy and comedy share a similar activity of speculating about ordinary thoughts and cutting through to find a deeper meaning.

Joseph F. Diller