A taxonomy of sarcasm

An old friend of mine once explained this to me, and now I will pass this precious wisdom to the rest of the world. Here is how to identify what degree of sarcasm you are using or experiencing:

  1. First degree sarcasm: Saying what you don’t mean, and saying it insincerely.
    E.g. “Oh! Now that was intelligent!” [said sardonically after something stupid is done]
  2. Second degree sarcasm: Saying what you don’t mean, but saying it sincerely.
    E.g. “Oh, now that was intelligent.”  [said in a complimentary way after something stupid is done]
  3. Third degree sarcasm: Saying what you mean, but saying it insincerely.
    E.g. “Yeah, you’re a good friend.” [said in a mocking tone of voice to a true friend]
  4. Fourth degree sarcasm: Saying what you mean, and saying it sincerely.*
    E.g. “Yeah, you’re a good friend.” [said in a matter-of-fact tone of voice to a true friend]

Or in tabled form:

  Say it insincerely Say it sincerely
Say what you don’t mean 1st degree sarcasm 2nd degree sarcasm
Say what you do mean 3rd degree sarcasm 4th degree sarcasm

The first degree of sarcasm is the least subtle. It is the easiest to use in conversation and the hardest to misunderstand. It is also not very funny.

Metasarcasm can occur when someone realises that first degree sarcasm is undesirable, but makes a statement that is, on the surface, first degree sarcastic—saying what one doesn’t mean, and saying it like one doesn’t mean it. This is done in full knowledge of the comedic limitations of this degree of sarcasm, and as a mockery of first degree of sarcasm itself.

The second degree of sarcasm is slightly more subtle, and depending on timing and other contextual factors, it can be very witty or very harsh. The power in this degree of sarcasm depends on the contrast between the sincerity of the statement, while actually conveying the opposite meaning.

Third degree sarcasm can be used when first or second degree sarcasm are too coarse or obvious. Imagine that your friend is obviously working very quickly at some task. You could use first degree sarcasm to say, “Wow, you’re working really slow.” That would not be very funny at all, unless it is an example of metasarcasm, so instead you might try saying in a matter-of-fact tone, “Could you pick up the pace a bit?” which would be better—a good example of second degree sarcasm—but that might seem obvious. Another option is the use of third degree sarcasm. You might say while rolling your eyes, “Yeah, that’s impressive.” You actually are impressed by your friend’s industriousness, but you say so in a way that seems to convey the opposite meaning.

The third degree of sarcasm is also sometimes used to express vulnerable truths in a way that protects the speaker. The speaker is protected by the ambiguity of the statement. Coated with a thin layer of sarcasm, the speaker can, in subsequent sentences, make the third degree sarcastic statement appear to be either an attempt at humour or alternately, a heartfelt expression of feeling, depending on how the speaker feels it has been taken.

The fourth degree of sarcasm is the most subtle, and many deny that it is sarcasm at all. Indeed, by its definition, “a sincere expression of what one really means,” it is not hard to see why it is often missed. I leave, as an exercise for the reader, the task of coming up with some examples.

[ * I have put an asterisk after this definition because this definition gives the necessary, but not the sufficient conditions for a statement to be fourth degree sarcastic. That is, not all members of the set of statements that are sincere expressions of ideas that one means to convey are also members of the set of fourth degree sarcastic statements.]


Rate of write for my last paper
Rate of write for my last paper

This last essay was particularly painful to write. It’s not that I found the material less interesting, or that there was anything about the essay itself that was bad—I’ve just had a huge headache for the past few days, and all I wanted to do today was sleep. I don’t think the quality of my writing suffered as a result, but it was just harder to get through it.

I’ve been drinking water and taking acetaminophen, but I think it’s just the stress catching up with me. I’m tired and I’ve had a hard time sleeping lately.

I was originally planning on writing about hyperintensionality, but I couldn’t find the right sort of sources for the essay I wanted to write, so I decided to write about Kit Fine, the guy that I did my in-class presentation about. He argued for modal pluralism, and I was reasonably convinced by him, and I was going to defend him from Chalmers and his zombie arguments. While writing this essay, though, my opinions changed. I started as a modal pluralist, and ended up a modal monist. Good work, David J. Chalmers.

I would like to note at this point that zombies in philosophy aren’t the same as zombies in the movies. For a philosopher of mind, a zombie is a person who is a complete physical duplicate of a normal human being, but who lacks internal phenomenal experience of her own consciousness. Ooooo … spooky. I sometimes wonder if the term was invented by a lazy philosophy prof who wanted to go to a Hallowe’en party but who didn’t want to bother dressing up:

“No seriously guys, I’m a zombie. I’m a complete microphysical duplicate of the non-zombie me, but I just don’t have any phenomenal experience. There is no ‘what it is like’ for me to be me.”

And, like other philosophers, he would be totally socially unaware of himself, and not notice his friends rolling his eyes at him.

One of the concepts that Kit Fine makes up for use in his paper is that of “schmass,” which is like mass, except that it works on an inverse cube law, rather than an inverse square law. I just like the word “schmass.”

Sometimes I think that the best part of my papers are the titles. I called my paper, “Schmassive problems with zombies in modality and metaethics.”

If you will direct your attention to the graph, you can see that there were a couple plateaus in my productivity, right around lunch-time and dinner-time, which is to be expected, but I generally worked well up until the end. Speaking of the end, the end of this paper officially marks the end of the course-work for my MA. If I don’t want to, I don’t ever have to attend a class again.

Actually, I suppose that’s been true since I graduated high school. I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment. I didn’t have to go to university, and I didn’t have to go to grad school after that. And since attendance isn’t really taken at the university level, even though I did decide to go to university, I could have skipped class. (Actually, that’s not true. Many of my profs take attendance in my seminars. I should have skipped class back in my undergrad days when I had the chance.)

Tomorrow I start work, and I’ll let you know how that goes. I called in this afternoon to confirm that I’m coming in and to find out what time I start. I start at 9h. I’ve never had a real 9-5 before.

I’m going to hit the sack early and hope to feel all better by tomorrow. If not, I still have most of a big bottle of easy-to-swallow analgesics, so I should be all right.

Oh, does anyone have a suggestion for a work of fiction for me to read? I finished the Deptford Trilogy recently, and I’m looking for something to fill my “things that I read on the Métro” void.

Almost done

I’m almost done writing my last essay. It’s on zombies. I’m not even kidding. Zombies are surprisingly important in philosophy of mind and metaethics, and a lot of ink has been spilled by philosophers over a thought experiment involving them.

This is the last assignment for my coursework for my MA. After this, the only thing that’s left is my thesis. Depending on what I decide to do after I graduate, I may never sit in a classroom again.

TA evaluation

TA evaluation
My TA evaluation, on the side of my fridge

This week, I went in to the office of the department of philosophy and got my evaluation from last semester’s TA-ship. This is the students’ chance to evaluate the TA, and it is done online, anonymously, and the results aren’t given back until well after the course is completed.

I was very pleased to see that in answer to the statement, “The TA was effective in fulfilling his/her role,” the overwhelming majority of the students who filled out the form clicked “strongly agree.” The written-out comments were very positive as well.

Except for one person. He or she clicked “strongly disagree,” and then wrote a very negative comment.

You can’t please everyone, I guess.

Philosophy clothing

I never liked Nietzsche that much

So the Philosophy Department sent out an email last week, indicating that they had designed some clothing that they would have made, and that we could order some.

They are selling an “übermensch” t-shirt (from Nietzsche), which I didn’t like all that much. I probably would have bought one that said “Nietzsche is pietzsche,” though.

The other thing that they said we could order is a sort of sweater-thing with the McGill crest and the word “Philosophy” written on it. So I got one of those. First time I’ve ever bought school clothing, I think.

And then I remembered an idea I had an idea for a fantastic t-shirt back in my undergrad. In order to understand why it’s funny, I’ll have to explain a bit of philosophy of science.

Imagine you’re a geologist and you want to collect empirical data to support the claim that all emeralds are green. You collect a bunch of samples that support your hypothesis, and you think you’re doing a pretty good job, but then Nelson Goodman shows up and says, “Those are pretty good data, but they also equally support the hypothesis that all emeralds are grue.”

So, like a dummy, you don’t just ignore the kid and keep working, but rather you ask, “What do you mean by ‘grue?'”

And of course he answers and says, “Grue means green before January 1, 2050, but blue afterward.”

You say, “That’s just silly.”

Goodman goes on: “And bleen means blue before January 1, 2050, but green afterward.”

So you try to explain to him that it doesn’t make sense that the colour of emeralds would change at an arbitrary date in the future.

“Oh, they don’t change colour. They’re still grue after January 1, 2050.”

And then you say that the colours grue and bleen don’t make sense because they have a weird sort of disjunctive definition. But the problem is that Goodman was raised by hippies, and for him, grue and bleen are more basic concepts that green and blue. And for that matter, according to Goodman, the concepts of blue and green look really suspect to him.

“Am I really supposed to believe in this mystical colour called ‘green,'” asks Goodman incredulously, “that emeralds are supposed to be, and that they will be grue until January 1, 2050 and then magically change to bleen afterward?”

And in this way, you and Goodman argue for hours until one of you goes home, having been beaten black and bleen by the other.

Anyway, my t-shirt idea is the following:

A green t-shirt with “The colour of this shirt is grue” written on it. Or a blue t-shirt with “The colour of this shirt is bleen” written on it. Or maybe something like “This shirt just changed colour from grue to bleen.”

I’ve always wanted a bleen t-shirt.

Grr …

I did some research for my final paper in my bioethical theory course recently. I was going to write a paper defending the disaggregation of death. It turns out that Halevy and Brody (1993) already wrote the paper that I meant to, and did a better job than I would have.

I think I was able to salvage it, though. I’m writing a paper that uses the Halevy and Brody as a source, but takes up a different question, namely, When is it appropriate to bring in organ donation policy considerations when justifying a definition of death?

I’m actually feeling happier about this paper topic than the last one, anyway. I have more to say about this topic, and I think my abstract is ready for Wednesday!


Something that one of my students drew for me
Something that one of my students drew for me

Being a TA is one of the best parts of grad school. In the class that I’m a TA for, the first essay of the year was due last Monday. I guess I must have done a good job emphasising good “signposting” in essay-writing in my conferences, because this week, one of my students came up to me and handed me this hand-drawn cartoon that she made while writing her essay.

Some of the other grad students say I should put it up somewhere in the philosophy grad student office.

By the way, I do realise that it’s been over a month since I posted last. Sorry guys! My life is pretty complicated right now, and I don’t want to blog about it yet, because there are people who I need to talk to in person, before I start letting the whole world know what’s up with me. I expect that sometime this week, I will resume regular posting again.


The Phenomenology of Perception
The Phenomenology of Perception

Maurice Merleau-Ponty is my worst enemy. This is the cover of the newest edition of his book, The Phenomenology of Perception. It is terrible.

I tried to read the Preface, first and fourth chapters for class last week. I read them, read them again, downloaded some articles on them from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, and even checked out Wikipedia. I still don’t get it.

I went to class, and on the way there, the instructor for my first class, Bioethics Theory, was talking to me, trying to explain what’s going on. I went to the seminar, which was a class discussion, in which the professors didn’t participate. I felt a little better, because at the end, one of the other students asked what the motivation behind Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological project was. That’s philosopher-speak for, “Why on earth did he write this terrible book?”

If the Preface were submitted to me as an essay by one of my third-year students in the class for which I am a TA, I would fail him. He does not define his terms. He does not give a clear thesis. He rambles. I do not like phenomenology.

I spoke to the prof afterward, asking for some help, and she indicated that it’s normal to feel totally confused. That didn’t make me feel much better. I’ll have another go this week. I don’t have a choice. Maybe it won’t be as bad.

Things that professors tape to their doors

I found this note on a prof's door. I think it's hilarious.
I found this note on a prof's door. I think it's hilarious.

While I was a student at UWO, one of my favourite things to do while waiting for an appointment or a class to start would be wandering around Talbot College, where the philosophy department used to be, and looking at all the things that professors would tape to their doors for passers-by to see.

Profs do this at McGill as well. While I was waiting for my advising appointment on the 1st of September, I walked around the 9th floor a bit to see what profs had taped to their doors. There were a few of the usual jokes that you see periodically circulated by email, but this one that I photographed stood out to be, by far, the best.

Click on the photograph attached to this post. It is worth the time to read it. This is an account of a philosophy conference, as given by a child in elementary school.

I think my favourite part is “They couldn’t make jokes, many had beards.” But then again, the bitter conclusion, “I’ll never go to a philosophy conference again,” is pretty good too.

The Leacock Building

Here is the Leacock Building. The Department of Philosophy is on the 9th floor.
Here is the Leacock Building. The Department of Philosophy is on the 9th floor.

The Leacock Building is not very beautiful to look at, admittedly, but that is where I had my advising appointment with three faculty members in the philosophy department, which is on the 9th floor. Finally, I got some concrete answers with regard to what my courses would be, how to choose them and what to expect for the next two years.

I was given a sheet at this meeting that outlined the requirements for graduation. It was the first time I had ever seen it. When I brought it to the Bioethics Unit office, it was the first time they had seen it, too.

There, I met the prof for whom I will be a TA this year. I also met another Bioethics student, who will be the other TA. Also, the view of the city from the 9th floor was pretty good, but I was busy having a meeting, so I didn’t take any photographs. I’ll try to do that later.

Skill-testing question: In what short work of Stephen Leacock’s is the punch line, “It was a toothpick” ? If you can answer, I will give you 3 points, plus an extra 4 points because it is mine and my mother’s birthday today, and because it’s a pretty hard question, too. Unless you’ve read much Leacock, in which case you’ll probably love that short story as much as I do, and possibly have it memorised.