top of page

Elizabeth Cantalamessa

I am currently a PhD candidate at the University of Miami and
a philosophy instructor at the University of Houston-Downtown.

In Fall 2024, I will be an Assistant Professor in
the philosophy department at St.Bonaventure University.

My research lies at the intersection of social philosophy,
philosophy of language, and value theory.
My dissertation introduces a model of humor as a
cultural technology for revealing, reinforcing,
and challenging social norms.


I have published on topics including political speech,
Taylor Swift, aesthetic vocabulary and disagreement
 democratic deliberation, and copyright law.

I am also an Emerging Scholar with the Mark Twain Circle of America
and I was a Quarry Farm Fellow with the Center for Mark Twain Studies.
My research focuses on Twain's approach to language,
especially his views on non-literal speech
such as humbug, irony, and tall tales.

PICCantalamessa (1)_edited_edited.jpg
Home: Welcome
Home: About Me


I grew up in Houston, Texas. I dropped out of high school but reignited my academic passion when I enrolled in a philosophy elective at my local community college. I went on to receive my B.A. and M.A. in Philosophy at the University of Wyoming. I was an adjunct at the University of Houston-Downtown for a year before joining the PhD program in philosophy at the University of Miami. I was a guest on the Philosopher's Nest podcast where I discuss my unconventional academic trajectory as well as my work on humor.


I am a "nomadic nerd" and in my spare time I like to follow Bob Dylan around on tour, hike, play video games, watch movies (preferably thrillers with a runtime of 90 minutes or less), and take road trips with my cats. I have visited all 48 contiguous states in the US. :)

My last name looks harder to pronounce than it is:
"can't" "a-la" "mess" "ah".



Home: CV


Laugh Hard at the Absurdly Evil: Humor as Cultural Technology

Humor is weird. Consider the ways we can use humor to manipulate social norms: Richard Pryor used comedy to reveal and challenge racist stereotypes, while the playground bully uses humor to introduce and reinforce their own superiority. Philosophers generally define humor as a psychological response or capacity, but psychological accounts fail to capture humor’s communicative role(s). For example, a parent may tease their child as a tool for reinforcing social norms, and this holds regardless of the psychological origin story we tell. Further, what is humorous to one person or group may be offensive or unintelligible to others, which suggests that humor can perform multiple communicative roles simultaneously. My dissertation introduces a model of humor as a dual-edged tool (laughing at/laughing with) for manipulating social norms. On the social model, humor is a cultural technology for both perpetuating and challenging oppressive social practices, rather than (merely) a psychological response to them.


My dissertation has both a methodological component and an applied component. The methodological component motivates pluralism about (the function of) humor, before introducing an alternative “social" model of humor as a cultural technology for revealing, reinforcing, or challenging social norms. The applied component is two-fold. First, I show how the social model captures important communicative dimensions of humor that escape traditional psychological accounts. Secondly, show how my model offers an alternative framework for assessing the normativity of humor. The traditional psychological model suggests that the normativity of humor is found in psychological features of the jokester and/or their audience. However, if we model humor as a tool for revealing and reinforcing norms, then we can hold each other accountable for reinforcing objectionable norms without taking a stand on what’s going on “in the head.” Consequently, if jokes aren’t in the business of representing the truth, then the so-called “just joking” response is misplaced because it attempts to sever humor from accountability altogether.

Home: Text

Papers, Drafts, etc.

Please email me if you'd like a draft or pre-print.

Rights of the Living Dead: Taylor Swift's Zombie Army

Forthcoming in Taylor Swift and the Philosophy of Re-Recording edited by Brandon Polite.

In this paper I sketch an institutional theory of celebrity names to explain the economic, institutional, and political significance of self-appropriation, using Taylor Swift’s act of re-recording her own music as a paradigm case. 

A Pragmatist Approach to Aesthetic Disagreement

Forthcoming in Art & Philosophy edited by Alex King.
In this paper I introduce and motivate a pragmatist method for philosophizing about aesthetic disagreement. I argue that disagreement should be modeled as a practical activity or process, and show how this conception of disagreement avoids many of the puzzles faced by views that prioritize semantics.

Inverting the Implementation Challenge for Conceptual Engineers:
Lessons from the Disability Rights Movement

In this paper I survey some empirical and theoretical work on the “Implementation Gap” that arose between the design and implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, touted as an important legal component in combatting the attitudinal and structural barriers that impact people with disabilities. I then provide a new set of challenges for conceptual engineers interested in successful implementation.

Pragmatist Feminist Metaphysics

In this paper I introduce and defend a pragmatist methodology for projects in feminist metaphysics, drawing on the work of neopragmatists Huw Price and Amie Thomasson.

Eliminating the Fiction-Nonfiction Divide

I argue that philosophers should abandon the "fiction-nonfiction" divide in the philosophy of documentary film and replace it with Thi Nguyen's notion of aesthetic trust and betrayal. I explore the benefits of my proposal using the Martin Scorsese and Bob Dylan film Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story.

Sentimentalist Conceptual Engineering

Conceptual engineering is often framed as the activity of assessing and/or revising our concepts and conceptual frameworks in order to improve how people "think and talk." I argue that art can elicit feelings that cause us to reconsider our conceptual, linguistic, or normative commitments without explicit justification or explanation. In other words, art operates in the space of causes, rather than the space of reasons. As such, art is better suited in contexts where reason-based deliberation would fail or has failed in the past. Consequently, conceptual engineering is not just a matter of changing how people “think and talk,” but also how they feel; I call this “sentimentalist conceptual engineering.”

On Humor

Forthcoming in Introduction to Aesthetics edited by Evan Malone and Elizabeth Scarbrough
I survey existing philosophical accounts of humor before arguing that we ought to be pluralists about the function of humor. I then introduce a model of humor as a cultural technology for revealing, reinforcing, and challenging social norms. 

Home: Publications

Courses Taught

Please Contact Me for Syllabi
Partial list (Full list available on my CV)

Home: Courses

Ancient Philosophy

Spring 2024; University of Houston-Downtown

Social and Ethical Issues in Computing

Spring 2023; University of Miami

Philosophy of Language

Fall 2022; University of Miami.

Spring/Fall 2022; University of Miami.

19th Century Philosophy

Spring 2022; University of Miami.

Summer 2021; University of Wyoming.

Fall 2021; University of Wyoming.

Screen Shot 2021-02-05 at 11.06.58

Get in Touch

Please contact me if you have any questions or interests regarding my work in progress, course offerings, or any other inquires.


eac164 [at] miami [dot] edu













Home: Contact
bottom of page