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Serious Larks

The Philosophy of Ted Cohen

Edited by: Daniel Herwitz
Contributor: Daniel Herwitz
Ted Cohen was an original and captivating essayist known for his inquisitive intelligence, wit, charm, and a deeply humane feel for life. For Cohen, writing was a way of discovering, and also celebrating, the depth and complexity of things overlooked by most professional philosophers and aestheticians—but not by most people. Whether writing about the rules of baseball, of driving, or of Kant’s Third Critique; about Hitchcock, ceramics, or jokes, Cohen proved that if you study the world with a bemused but honest attentiveness, you can find something to philosophize about more or less anywhere.

​This collection, edited and introduced by philosopher Daniel Herwitz, brings together some of Cohen’s best work to capture the unique style that made Cohen one of the most beloved philosophers of his generation. Among the perceptive, engaging, and laugh-out-loud funny reflections on movies, sports, art, language, and life included here are Cohen’s classic papers on metaphor and his Pushcart Prize–winning essay on baseball, as well as memoir, fiction, and even poetry. Full of free-spirited inventiveness, these Serious Larks would be equally at home outside Thoreau’s cabin on the waters of Walden Pond as they are here, proving that intelligence, sensitivity, and good humor can be found in philosophical writing after all.

Author Information

Ted Cohen (1939–2014) was professor of philosophy in the College, the Committee on Art and Design, and the Committee on General Studies in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. Daniel Herwitz is the Fredric Huetwell Professor of Comparative Literature, Philosophy, and History of Art at the University of Michigan.


"I met Ted Cohen once at The University of Michigan where he was giving a wonderfully funny and wonderfully philosophical talk on jokes. Unusual subject for a philosopher, I thought. Now reading Serious Larks, I see how unusual a philosopher he was, whether dealing with jokes and the myriad ways we can find to not enjoy them, or revealing the kindred joys we take in both art and sports. Cohen’s philosophy is squarely rooted in the lived and lively life he led, and you would be wise to follow his lead."
— Bob Mankoff, Cartoon and Humor Editor for Esquire

“It is a very rare pleasure to read Cohen’s essays. He was a true original who alwaystook a fresh approach to a topic, and these essays are gems, bringing together in one place the distinctive combination that is Cohen: the sharpest philosophical acuity, a wonderful writing style–lucid, invariably clear, rich in implication (and thus they make one think), a sense of adventure and discovery (often about things one took for granted), and–perhaps most distinctively Cohenesque, a sense of companionship and humane presence.”
— Garry L. Hagberg, Bard College

“The new book is similarly wide-ranging, featuring lively, witty and accessible essays on everything from ceramics, Hitchcock, photography and the perfect gin to why jokes sometimes fall flat and how Cohen’s ageing grandfather managed to pass a driving test when he was manifestly a danger to himself and others.”
— Times Higher Education

"Cohen wades into the ontologically uncharted waters of fun stuff—jokes, metaphors, sports. . . .What I find so charming about Cohen’s style is his unyielding appreciation for ordinary life—his sense that humanity has just as much to do with the mundane as it does with matters of great aesthetic importance."
— The New Yorker

Audience: Professional and scholarly;