Aristotle and the Value of Tragedy

British Journal of Aesthetics 54 (2):111-123 (2014)
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Abstract

This article explores Aristotle’s understanding of the value of tragedy. The primarily technical analyses of the Poetics are not sufficient for this purpose: they must be read in the context of Aristotle’s philosophical anthropology. An outline of Aristotle’s understanding of the structure of human motivation provides a framework within which to interpret his discussion of the uses of music, and in particular of music’s status as an intrinsically valuable component of cultivated leisure. Applying that model to tragedy requires an explanation of what motivates engagement with drama that evokes distressing affects. Aristotle’s account of musical katharsis, if read with sufficient attention to its structure and interpreted in the light of his analysis of pleasure, provides a solution. If the importance which Aristotle attaches to intrinsically valuable leisure activities is overlooked, it is not possible to understand his conception of a good human life, or his aesthetics

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