Aesthetics Seminar (Monday - Week 3, HT23)

aesthetics seminar

In this paper, I offer a new interpretation of Aristotelian tragic catharsis, and thus a new proposal as to how, for Aristotle, audiences can morally benefit from engaging with tragedy. In particular, I suggest that Aristotle’s notion of catharsis is connected to the phenomenon we now describe as moral luck: King Oedipus is the victim of bad moral luck, and his response to it offers a crucial piece of moral education for the audience of the Oedipus Rex. I start by outlining Aristotle’s view of pity and fear, as developed in the Rhetoric and the Nicomachean Ethics. Next, I discuss several interpretations of catharsis as a process of purgation and relief, and argue that none of them is convincing. I then consider views of catharsis as a form of purification via emotional education. I argue that this approach is more promising, but that nonetheless, existing versions of it are not completely satisfactory. Finally, I outline my own version of this emotional education approach. I argue that catharsis is a partly emotional and partly cognitive process of clarifying our understanding of cases of moral bad luck.

Aesthetics Seminar Convenors: Catharine Abell and David Collins