Being funny isn't easy. Figuring out what makes things funny is even harder. Still, a number of psychologists (e.g., Freud) and philosophers (e.g., Bergson) have tried.
Running now for 28 years, The Simpsons may not seem like a legitimate source for philosophical discourse and ideas. But this year the University of Glasgow launched a successful one-day course entitled "D'oh! The Simpsons Introduce Philosophy" as an introduction to the world's most eminent philosophical thinkers.
Teaching The Simpsons alongside Kant, Marx, and Camus, the course's creator, John Donaldson, asked students to consider several philosophical quandaries, like morality and free will in an episode where Bart is "sent to a school for gifted children after cheating in a test," or divine command theory (the theory that what is moral is whatever God commands), as exemplified by the aphorisms doled out by Ned Flanders.
Professor Donaldson is not the first academic to propose that we can learn a lot from The Simpsons. The founder of The Philosopher's Magazine, Julian Baggini, argues that "cartoons are actually the ideal artistic vehicle for philosophy" more generally. With its dealings in the general and abstract, "philosophy," Baggini writes, "always describes a kind of cartoon world."
Skeptical, but want to learn more? Here are two articles about the course and The Simpsons' excursions into philosophy: