January 28, 2006

Week 4 (01–02–06)

Read the introduction on Tragedy and David Hume ' of Tragedy'. Do the commentry on Hume. (pages 41–54)

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  1. An introduction to the text

    A tragedy is a work of fiction in which the protagonist can eaily be identified with. They suffer a fall in their fortunes and end up in a worse state than they started. Their own actions and character are the cause of their own downfall and they become trapped in a situation of suffering. In a well written tragedy the audience will indentify emotionly with the characters and leave feeling the full force of the suffering and devastation.

    The philosophical question that tragedy raises is why the public come away from seeing a story of horific suffering and be pleased and even gratful to the playwright for making them feel the pain. Surley the reason people go to watch plays or read books is to experience pleasure. But why do we enjoy the deliberate portrayal of what is negative and painful?

    This paradox is sometimes called the paradox of tragedy. The assumption needed for its existence is that the audience of tragedy both experience painful feelings and feelings of pleasure. It can be argued however, that although this assumption is true, there is no paradox.

    28 Jan 2006, 13:22

  2. Mandy Adogla

    Tragedy in this context takes the form or either an "invented story, a human action in the form of a drama or in a narrative such as a novel or a film". Such forms are usually compelling, as the audience is able to identify and sympathies with the characters who usually find themselves in situations that cause suffering and destruction. The play that is full of sorrow and despair, draws in a great number of viewers, regardless of whether the play has the best actors or not. This is because "high passions" arise from great loss and the spectator is affected by sympathy which leads him to have "touches of the same passions" as the actor.

    The philosophical question addressed in the play, is "why do we feel greater admiration and become the more excited when substantial amounts of negative emotions are depicted in tragedic plays." Surely it would be more logical for one to feel displeased by viewing plays with horrific scenes and devastations, but it is quite the contrary.

    The French writer Fontenelle attributes these feelings to the fact that one is aware that what they are viewing is fiction, therefore we can find these actions pleasurable, because we donít believe it is true. However, Hume dismisses this idea, and gives an example of Cicero's narration of Verres atrocities; he claims this narration was "the delight of every readers taste", and therefore proves fontenelles assumption incorrect, because people find pleasure in hearing and viewing atrocities whether it is true or false.

    30 Jan 2006, 14:21

  3. Pip Brock

    I felt that there were many main points raised in Hume's article. Firstly, why do people feel pleasure at seeing tragedy? This was the central argument to the piece and the one that Hume aimed to answer within his paper.

    He firstly considers an argument from Dubos, that any source of entertainment- whether positive or negative- is better than the boredom that the mind suffers without it. Hume disagrees with this overall though as he says that real life tragedy is not enjoyable even though it prevents boredom.

    Next, an argument from Fontenelles tries to answer the problem with the first argument by saying that we can distinguish fiction from reality therefore we know that the tragedy that we are witnessing as entertainment is not real so we can enjoy it. Hume disagrees with this as well though as he gives an account of when a real life case of tragedy was enjoyed by an audience.

    Therefore, in his own argument Hume restarts an explanation as none of the previous arguments have satisfied him. He begins by saying there are many sources of pleasure through positive emotions, for example aesthetics, and that tragedy is just an imitation of these. That the predominant pleaure is derived from the aesthetics and the tragedy is merely a subordinate pleasure.
    He continues by saying that if tragedy becomes predominant or goes too far, however, then as the aesthetics cannot be increased the enjoyment will cease.

    Overall then, I interpret Hume's argument for why people get pleasure from watching tragedy as: certain combinations of positive and negative emotions as well as the right circumstances are required for tragedy to be effective in creating pleasure in an audience.

    30 Jan 2006, 18:32

  4. Richard Gunning

    The paradox of tradgedy is that why does one feel pleasure at watching a tradgedy? With often graphic details of the fall of someone, often casued by their own personality, why does the audience enjoy viewing such tradgedy? Surely it would be more rational if the audience were to sympathise with the charcter with negative emotions.

    Hume considers the answer to be a combination of reasons. Hume considers that the tradgedy is fiction and so the audience need not feel too much distress, however the example of Cicero and Verres, in which the audience does not beleive is fictinonal, to show this cannot be the full reason. Hume uses the stirring of passions as a valid reason. Since we are excited by such exciting stories and passions evoked it becomes enjoyable. These are just two examples in which one might solve this paradox.

    In a tradgedy, a character the audience sympathises with contributes to his own downfall, yet the audience enjoys this. This seems irrational yet philosophers such as Hume suggest that while the audience experince both pleasure and pain, htere is no paradox.

    30 Jan 2006, 19:59

  5. Anonymous

    I think the real dillema in this situation is not about tradgedy, its about the aliens in my room, they live under my bed and haunt me constantly. SOme people say i'm crazy, perhaps, but i'm falling in love with one of these aliens. This poses the question, why do i love this alien when nothing can come of t, this is a pradox. Our relationship has no meaning, yet she understands me and nurtures me with her intellect. Sometimes she strokes me with her antenas, i enjoy it.

    01 Feb 2006, 10:22

  6. Anonymous

    I feel for you, brother. I am one of the aliens under your bed, and we are harmless creatures. By the way, I am on your laptop at the moment and the pictures of my alien sister are quite worrying, you are a sick person. If you go near my sister again, I will erase you with my intergalactic milky way basuka gun. I like the magazines under your bed.

    01 Feb 2006, 10:27

  7. Pip Brock

    Following on from Hume's paper is a paper by Feagin. This paper comments on the ideas put forward by Hume then adds another explantion on the paradox of pleasure resulting from tragedy.

    I thought that Feaginís paper on the pleasure from tragedy was interesting. Her explanation of direct and meta-responses was clear and simple. However, I did find problems with the lack of explanation of how to distinguish between such responses. Feagin says that sometimes the responses overlap as to which category they fall in but as this argument is central to her case, I did not find this explanation adequate.

    The paper continues to discuss two specific types of people; the selfish sentimentalist and the unimaginative moralist. However, even though thorough descriptions of the characteristics of both of these were given I failed to understand whether all people are one or the other or whether there are people who fall in the middle (as these two types of people are to be the extremes).

    Another problem that I encountered was that even though it is obvious that some feelings can never be completed (therefore we can never have a meta-response according to them) there are some feelings that I could see being completed, for example the love felt for lovers of the past. The feelings towards these people may change but surely the feelings felt in the past are no longer present.

    Experience is said by Feagin to be a crucial part of any response, therefore, is there really that much variation between real life and aesthetic tragedy (many of their characteristics are similar)?

    I also agreed with the fact that there must be an incredibly complex relationship between moral and aesthetic values and that tragedy could help to identify and explain this relationship in part. This I think is especially seen in and could find the greatest results through the pleasure of tragedy being due to feeling pleased that we are ethical people- resulting from our direct response to witnessing a tragedy.

    13 Feb 2006, 22:26


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  • Following on from Hume's paper is a paper by Feagin. This paper comments on the ideas put forward by… by Pip Brock on this entry
  • I feel for you, brother. I am one of the aliens under your bed, and we are harmless creatures. By th… by Anonymous on this entry
  • I think the real dillema in this situation is not about tradgedy, its about the aliens in my room, t… by Anonymous on this entry
  • The paradox of tradgedy is that why does one feel pleasure at watching a tradgedy? With often graphi… by Richard Gunning on this entry
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