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- The scatogorical imperative is a central comedic tactic codified by German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) near the end of his life. It can be found in his posthumously published book entitled Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morons (1804).
The scatogorical imperative was codified by Kant in a small treatise within the Groundwork entitled "Now This Scheisse is Funny,” in which he lays out his own groundwork for top-notch Kantian humor. The scatogorical imperative is included as one of many varied aspects of a sharp comedic wit, which Kant outlines in this treatise. It is best known by its first formulation: “if all else fails, use a poop or fart joke—everyone loves those.”
Having re-read David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding near the end of his life, Kant wrote his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morons as a shameless ad hominem work against Hume and the “moronic skepticism” which he had introduced. Hume’s works, years earlier, had roused Kant from his “dogmatic slumber,” and inspired him to usher in his own “Copernican revolution” in philosophy. Kant was quick to again credit Hume with having provided the inspiration for the new book, though this time referring to him as simply “that pompous, kilt-wearing prick of a Scotsman.”
The scatogorical imperative, as introduced by Kant in his treatise “Now this Scheisse is Funny,” is basically a philosophical justification for using “dirty” humor, though more specifically what is usually considered “potty” humor. Overall, Kant encourages such humor in two main categories: as a failsafe and as a “spice.” As a failsafe, Kant suggests the use of such dirty humor as a means to get at least one good laugh out of one’s audience. In cases of a “tough crowd,” Kant says that “properly delivered, [such jokes] never fail.” What Kant means by using the imperative as a “spice” is using poop or fart jokes to bolster an already rich comedic text/routine. Kant warns, however, “just as one does not cook spices as meals in themselves, so should shit-jokes be reserved as a means to enrich the ‘flavor’ of one’s humor.” Kant even brings in an ethical dimension here, placing the practice in the context of his famous categorical imperative: “Since such dirty humor is but a facet of comedy in general, it should not be universalized and judged to be “comedy” in the purest sense. To always talk about shit is to become juvenile, puerile and ultimately Humean.”
edit Humor in Kant’s Philosophy
Kant does in fact write about humor in other works, one of which is his Critique of Judgment. In it, he states: “In everything that is to excite a lively laugh there must be something absurd (in which the understanding, therefore, can find no satisfaction). Laughter is an affection arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing,” adding in a later edition, “Like that night with Hume’s mom.”
edit Humor in the Groundwork
Outside of the treatise in which the scatogorical imperative is introduced, the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morons consists of a scathing critique of Hume’s skepticism based on the fact that it amounts to “no more than a joke, in the proper sense.” Kant substantiates this claim by placing Hume’s philosophical works within the framework of the above-mentioned definition of humor from his Critique of Judgment. “When I first received my personal volume of David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, I was expecting to find in it the philosophical brilliance which so many of my peers had gleaned from its pages. By the time I had reached the third section, I was laughing like a drunken Bavarian schoolgirl… The further I read, the more his work fell apart in my hands.” One of Hume’s most humorous suggestions, to Kant, was his notion that causality is nothing more than an illogical connection of subsequent events by the human mind. “In [Hume's] view, life is therefore illogical, absurd, and as such, merely a joke.” Kant adds: “only the clown and the dunce live their lives as such.” The whole Groundwork is colored by Kant’s late-life, near-octogenarian sass, which riddles the text with unrestrained insults against Hume and his mother. The text was finished shortly before Kant’s death and, after being published posthumously, was sent to all of Hume’s children, grandchildren and friends—-as was Kant’s wish—-since Hume had died some 28 years previous.
edit Historical influence
Besides setting a philosophical precedent for dirty humor, and humorous philosophical texts in general (which would be picked up by the likes of Kierkegaard, for example), Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morons was largely forgotten by the German philosophical tradition. However, the influence of Kant’s scatogorical imperative can be witnessed in much of Western humor today, though never directly attributed to him.
While forgotten by philosophers, the intelligentsia of Great Britain found such a scathing and heartless critique of one of their most distinguished peers hard to forgive. The grudge against German philosophy spread upward in the ranks of nobility, transferred through professors and tutors until it reached the Royal family itself. The reaction was especially strong against Kantian philosophy, and more specifically the “filth” which he had encouraged in the Groundwork. Queen Victoria, tutored by such influenced intellectuals her entire life, codified the ideas which created the “Victorian Era,” now known especially for its prudery, as a direct response to the very possibility that such humor should reach her Isle. The spread of such ideologies also introduced a new aversion to defecation and feces in general, which had a wide-reaching cultural impact. For instance, the corset was invented during this period with its original purpose being to help retain as much poop as was possible (because "real ladies never poo"). Furthering this trend, with new “advances” in medicine some of the noblewomen went as far as to have their anuses surgically closed, subsequently ushering in a new era of British cuisine. The personalities caused by such cultural mores would later lead Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud to dub this up-tight, obsessive persona “anal-retentive.”