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Structure of this paper

It is our goal here to explore the role of subversive counter-examples in thought experimentation and humour. We begin by considering the structure of thought experiments in section two, where we elaborate on Gendler’s (1998, 2000) notion of an exceptional case and consider how one might be constructed for a given theory. Gendler sees such cases as both appropriate examples of a theory and surprising counter-examples of that theory, insofar as these cases plainly belong to the theory’s domain of application yet produce conclusions that are incongruous relative the claims of the theory. As such, these appropriate counter-examples exhibit what Oring (2003) terms the “appropriate incongruity” that he claims is the very motor of humour. In section three we explore the mechanics of subversion via appropriate counter-examples in verbal humour, and demonstrate how exceptional cases can be constructed from the raw lexico- conceptual components of conventional linguistic constructions. We also briefly describe a particular genre of humour called ‘trumping’ whose form more clearly echoes the adversarial dialogue that lies at the heart of thought experiments. In section four we look to inter-personal considerations in both jokes and thought experiments to better understand why humour arises from some exceptional cases and not others. In section five we offer a case study of a particular linguistic form, the stereotypical simile, to see how (and how often) commonplace stereotypical associations are subverted by exceptional cases. Finally, we conclude in section six with a consideration of the implications of this synthesis of thought experiments and humour.

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