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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An investigation into Hegel’s theory of tragedy Black, Pamela Ann


In this thesis I deal primarily with Hegel's theory of tragedy, in an attempt to both explicate and evaluate his ideas in this area. The works of Hegel upon which I have based my observations include the chapter entitled Spirit in his Phenomenology of Spirit and the section on Dramatic Poetry in his Philosophy of Fine Art. First I delineate the kind of moral dilemma which Hegel asserted as intrinsic to tragedy and then I evaluate the theory which arises out of this belief. The Hegelian terminology necessary for this sort of discussion is set out in the first two chapters. An explanation is given for such terms as Spirit, Freedom, the Universal, the Absolute and the self-defined subject. Hegel's interest in the Greek po1i s - the tension between the autonomy of the individual and the demands of the state and his concepts of Christian agape and Fate are also discussed. In the second chapter Hegel's historical dialectic is explored to further clarify his concept of Spirit and to provide the context in which he first presents us with the Antigone, which is his major vehicle for the abstraction of his theory of tragedy from the rest of his system. At this stage the basic ingredients of tragedy can be clearly defined, i.e., familial obligation versus civic duty. I discuss the possibility of tragic division within Spirit itself, the case in which morally justifiable belief and action may be at odds with action and belief which is equally justifiable. The third chapter offers a more thorough examination of the ethical duties which Hegel thought were unique to family life and the relation these bore to the Universal. Then a brief exegesis of the Antigone is given, followed by the philosophical significance which Hegel perceived in the play's major events and in the relationships therein depicted. In the final chapter I deal with Hegel's attempt to extend his theory to include modern tragedy. I discuss the level of coherence and consistency which he maintains and the value of his expanded theory. As he contends that modern tragedy emphasizes The individual and the needs and desires of his particular personality or character, I follow up on Quinton's query about whether Hegel's theory can hold up once we have taken the ethical significance away from the action in tragedy. Finally, I discuss what "the tragic view of life" can be said to mean for Hegel. Is he the optimist he is generally taken for and are all spheres of action and belief in his ethical world ultimately concordant and harmonious? Or, indeed, does Hegel consistently support a yes or no answer to this latter question, along with all its ensuing implications for tragedy and Spirit.

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