Kierkegaard’s strategies for titles and subtitles: Reading The Concept of Anxiety II

After the pseudonym, we can consider the title, including the subtitle. The title in the Danish  of Kierkegaard’s time is Begrebet Angest, in Danish as it exists now, Begrebet angst (the capitalisation of the fist letter of nouns has been dropped from Danish since Kierkegaard’s time). Kierkegaard’s use of the word foreshadows its use by Martin Heidegger and Sigmund Freud in the twentieth century. Heidegger was clearly aware of Kierkegaard’s text, so there is non-accidental continuity, while in Freud’s case it seems to be a case of a less direct connection. Anxiety in English has a Latin origin (anxietatem), as English language lost the root word from Old German for Angst in modern Danish and German. This is not at issue for Kierkegaard who only knew English texts in translation, but it does display what translation of texts can emphasise by implication.

One implication here is that there is a proto-Indo-European root word for something like what we understand by anxiety/angst, that would be a normal possibility to draw from the existence of words with similar meanings and sound, which exist independently in Ancient Latin and Old German. Those who construct the lost Proto-Indo-European language from these similar roots for words do believe that Proto-Indo-European included a word like angh or anghu, for tightness, constriction and fear. This is not at issue for Kierkegaard, but it is important to note that he was focusing on a word which is one of the oldest in origin in the Indo-European languages.

The subtitle brings together psychological and theological themes: A simple psychologically orienting deliberation on the dogmatic issue of hereditary sin. Reidar Thomte translated and edited The Concept of Anxiety for the Princeton University Press Kierkegaard series, in collaboration with Aibert B. Anderson. In their scholarly apparatus they argue that Arvesynd in Kierkegaard’s Danish is better translated as hereditary sin, than original sin, though the issue of original sin is the normal label for what Kierkegaard discusses from the theological point of view in The Concept of Anxiety. My inspection of the Gyldendal Danish-English dictionary confirms that claim, as arne does refer to the inheritance, the hereditary and so on. It would seem that Kierkegaard wishes to emphasise how sin of Adam in the Fall was passed on down the generations. It seems to me that the main text is arguing that we ‘inherit’ sin from Adam in the sense that we have a shared psychology, which must lead us into fear of our freedom, which seems to undercut the inheritance point. The inheritance is the repetition of psychology rather than the transmission of sin, but we could see it as inheritance of psychology.

We have the psychological issue in Kierkegaard along with the theological issue of dogmatics, referring to the branch of theology which is concerned with the essential beliefs of the religion concerned. Kierkegaard does not write a book on dogmatics though, but a book which pushes us towards dogmatics to have a complete grasp of ethics and of anxiety (as a way of referring to hereditary sin). We can also ask how fat Kierkegaard is writing an invitation of check the basic tenets of Christianity. What he means by dogmatics seems closely connected with his sense that humans are faced with dilemmas which can only be resolved in the absolute unity of opposites in God and faith. In that case dogmatics  could become the instrument of how we try to deal wit contradictions like that between our enduring and momentary selves, in which the possibility of a ‘dogmatic’ solution is more important that the solution itself. That is not how Kierkegaard, or his more conservative theological commentators read the overall purpose o Kierkegaard, but that at least seems to be an element of Kierkegaard’s thought, to define the purpose of the theological solution, rather than discuss the solution.

The other elements of the subtitle are those of ‘deliberation’ and ‘orienting’ (giving a direction), the nature of which are persistent issues for Kierkegaard. The nature of thinking in general, and as philosophical thinking, along with the most concrete individual thinking are issues for Kierkegaard. He also has a constant interest in how the self unifies itself and so orientates itself towards the absolute. The awkwardly long subtitle has a parodic aspect, but we can also se it as Kierkegaard’s way of bringing his interests together. That way of bringing them together is revealing of Kierkegaard’s form of dialectic and of irony.

Kierkegaard and Justinian’s Pope: Reading The Concept of Anxiety I

Kierkegaard’s pseudonym for this book is Vigilius Haufnensis. As Albert B. Anderson’s scholarly apparatus for the Princeton University Press edition (the only English edition in print) points out, this means watchman in Copenhagen, in Latin. There are significant additional aspects of this name. Vigilius looks like a reference to Pope Vigilius who had the office from 537 to 555. Vigilius comes from the Latin ‘vigila’, wakefulness, which is evidently the origin of such English words as vigil and vigilant. ‘Vigilia’ also refers to the night watchman and it is this which Anderson takes as the most important reference for Kierkegaard’s pseudonym. Haufnensis comes from ‘hafnia’, the Latin for harbour, and Hafnia is the Latin for Copenhagen. Copenhagen is København in modern Danish, originating in Køpmannæhafn, merchant’s harbour. Hafnia is the Latinised form of hafn. The name sets up a quite intricate relation between the modern Danish and ancient Roman worlds, through the apparent reference to the late antique Pope. Kierkegaard does not refer to this pope directly, but it is highly unlikely that he was unaware of him and that the reference is just an accident. That is a general rule for thinking about apparently accidental references in Kierkegaard, and in this case it is confirmed by the Preface, where ‘Haufnensis’ says


I am as devout in my belief in authority as the Roman was tolerant in his worship of God. When it comes to human authority, I am a fetish worshipper and will worship anyone with equal piety, but with one proviso, that it will be made sufficiently clear by a beating of drums that he is the one I must worship and that he is the authority and Imprimatur for the current year’(page 8).


Kierkegaard’s method is indirect, as you would expect, but clear enough if we piece together the references. He directs our attention to the Roman world, through what loos like a reference to the pre-Christian era of tolerance for different forms of Paganism. There is then the reference to Imprimatur, which does lead us to the original meaning of the word, which is the authority to publish a book given by a Catholic bishop. There seems to be a sardonic reference to Catholic restrictions on freedom of publication and reading here, whether with regard to influence on state power, or the Church’s internal restrictions on what believers should read. It is well known that Kierkegaard was a critic of the state church in Denmark, and came into conflict with its bishops including his own brother, so we can see a reference to Kierkegaard’s own life, and Denmark of his time.


Vigilius was Pope in the time of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (often thought of as the transitional Emperor in the movement from eastern Roman Empire to a new Hellenic Empire, retrospectively labelled as Byzantine). This precedes the decisive split between the church in the east and in the west (the Orthodox-Catholic split) by some centuries. Justinian had reconquered parts of Italy for the ‘Romans’ by the time of Vigilius, and Rome was occupied by his most famous general Belisarius when Vigilius was abruptly called to Constantinople. This was because of debates about church doctrine which are not obviously relevant to Kierkegaard’s thoughts. The relevant point seems to be that Vigilius ended up compromising with the Emperor after a Synod and a period of imprisonment. He was allowed to go back to Rome at this point, but died on the way, in Sicily. Vigilius is open to the charge of sacrificing doctrinal conviction to compromise with power, reflecting Kierkegaard’s own dislike of Danish bishops he thought were too comfortable with the life of a prince of the church. The reference in that passage to the Imprimatur, looks like an allusion to Imperator, the word from which Emperor is derived. Imperator was a title given to the people we now know as Roman Emperors, though they also used various other titles.


That leaves the question of why Kierkegaard wished to use such a pseudonym. The reference to a watchman in Copenhagen seems clear enough as a positive reference to Kierkegaard the critical observant thinker, and the latinism reflects Kierkegaard’s ow high level of education in classical languages and philology. The Pope Vigilius reference is ambiguous in that though Vigilius seemed to bow to the authority of Justinian, he resisted for a long time, and it is possible that issues of church unity were just as important for Vigilius as fitting in with authority, and explains his actions. It is hard to say what he symbolises, but his name invokes a time of state pressures on popes of a very complex kind, since they also had to deal with the post-Roman Germanic rulers of most of Italy, as well as with the Emperor in Constantinople. Vigilius’ exile and death while still journeying back to Rome may appeal to Kierkegaard’s sense of being an exile from his own community, and from the city of Copenhagen, for which he often invokes a deep affection and sense of connection, if tinged with his constant scepticism.

Vico’s Place in the Philosophy of Literature and of History

(From work in progress on the philosophy of literary judgement)

Vico gives us the first major work of philosophy, and the first major work of historiography, which puts literature at the centre (The New Science).  There had been much history that was also literature, and much philosophy that was also literature.  Aristotle’s Poetics discusses the philosophical status of poetry and history, giving the higher status to poetry.  However, no one had tried to write a theory of history, and a philosophy of the knowledge of society, which put literature at the centre.  For Vico, we understand the earliest history through an interpretation of Homer, which tells us about the heroic age.  Homer had influenced thinking about the archaic era of the small kingdoms of Greece, which preceded the Greek Dark Age, but it was Vico who argued that we need to put the study of Homer at the centre of our knowledge of law and institutions in the archaic age.  Vico makes the dubious claim that the earliest peoples spoke in poetry, but in doing so sets up the idea that poetry is at the centre of human action, history, and metaphysics.  That claim is supposed to provide a foundation of jurisprudence, but clearly not in such a way as to look at history as the history of law codes.  Law codes themselves have a historical context in language, and the earliest poetic use of language.  Aristotle had already suggested a distinction between theoretical and practical reason, between knowledge of objects and rules of human action.  Vico goes further in suggesting that knowledge of human history must have characteristics  distinct from knowledge of the physical universe, which requires systematic study of language and poetry.

The approach to language and poetry refers to rhetorical studies of a kind going back to Aristotle.  Vico introduces something distinct though, in which we are not just concerned with language as persuasion, but the basis of understanding human history.  Language is not just rhetorical or an instrument of cognition, it is how we construct and understand the historical human world.  The nature of law, and its accompanying institutions, depends on the nature of language.  History begins with the words in which primordial giants react to lightening, in a first act of linguistic creation.  This synthesising, integrating and dynamic understanding changes the status of literature in history and philosophy, and our ways of understanding literature.  Vico’s New Science  is the greatest work of literary criticism since Aristotle, though lacking in much discussion of the qualities of specific literary texts.  Despite the concentration in Homer, there is not much insight into The Iliad and The Odyssey  as particular works; comments on literature are very schematic .  The focus is on a general view of what connects literature and the ‘heroic age’, that is what we now call Mycenaean, or Bronze Age Greece.

Vico establishes a new beginning in understanding literature because of the social significance of the literary text, its hermeneutic possibilities, and its place in the general use of language, and puts literature on a new level.  It is the way of understanding literature which is necessary for comprehending Cervantes, and the novel since then.  That is the work of literature as a poetic, multi-faceted, ironic, subjective but universal, kind of writing.  Vico only discusses irony very briefly in the context of the ‘age of reflection’ (presumably Classical Athens).  What he says about Roman law is full of aesthetic significance, how it transforms poetry and drama into judicial principles, including the idea of legal personhood itself.  It points towards an understanding of the novel.  Other work of the time like that of Montesquieu, Burke and Hume, contributes in various ways to this understanding of literature after epic and rhetoric, but it is Vico who puts it at the centre of historical knowledge, transforming the understanding of literature and history, the development of laws and institutions, as embedded in the ambiguities and communicative complexities of communication.  A phase opens with Vico, which in some respects ends in Kierkegaard with his focus on subjectivity, communication, irony and paradox in philosophy, literature, and opera.

Empiricism and Rationalism in the Origin of Modern Aesthetics

(From work in progress on the philosophy of literary judgement)

Establishing a starting point for the aesthetic tradition of the eighteenth-century is inevitably difficult, as every starting point has a precedent.  Still, in general it is the philosophy of Lord Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper) written in the last decade of the seventeenth century and the first decade of the eighteenth century, which is usually taken as the historical starting point for a form of aesthetic inquiry, which leads into Kant’s aesthetics, and the discipline of philosophical aesthetics as it is now known.   Shaftesbury’s first book, Inquiry Concerning Merit (in Shaftesbury 1999), was published in an unauthorised form in 1699, just nine years after John Locke published An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Locke 1975).  Shaftesbury’s grandfather, also named Anthony Ashley Cooper, was Locke’s patron and the philosophical Shaftesbury was Locke’s friend.  In addition to these biographical links, Shaftesbury’s philosophy developed from the empiricism of Locke.  Cooper makes claims which are unLockean, like suggesting innateness of our sense of beauty, but he also suggests that we think of that in terms of instinct.  He emphasises the power of the mind in beauty, and that is something that builds on Locke’s work on the complexity and productivity of the mind.

The other major texts of eighteenth century English language philosophy clearly follow on from that empiricism.  That means the British Enlightenment work of Hutcheson, Hume and Burke.  Hutcheson’s book of 1725 An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (Hutcheson 2008) is the first classic philosophical book since Aristotle’s Poetics, to be in large part concerned with aesthetics.   That work is  followed up in various essays and passages in David Hume from 1740 in A Treatise of Human Nature onwards; and then in Burke’s 1757 treatise A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin or Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful.  In parallel we have the word aesthetic being given its modern meaning of philosophy of beauty and art, in the German Enlightenment in Alexander Baumgarten’s in his Aesthetica of 1750.  The arguments of the Aesthetica go back to the 1735 text Reflections on Poetry [Meditationes philosophicae de nonnullis ad poema pertitentibus] (Baumgarten 1954), which relies on Leibnizian arguments about complexity and degrees of representation.  Baumgarten is concerned with the fullness of representation in poetry.  Clarity and determination ranks above confusion in an ideal state of perception.  Baumgarten’s more direct references to Leibniz (Baumgarten 1954, 46) emphasise the didactic purpose of poetry rather than the qualities unique to poetry from an aesthetic point of view, but this in itself rests on Leibniz’s view of the world and its divine machines as demonstrating God’s justice and wisdom.  The perfection Leibniz looks for in the world as God’s creation is what Baumgarten looks for in a work of poetry.

What is also apparent in Baumgarten is the importance of Leibniz’s view of ideas and of perception.   According to Baumgarten, stronger impressions are clearer than weak impressions, so that poetry should bring about the strongest affects (Baumgarten 1954, 48).  There is some ambiguity about the role of completeness and complexity in Baumgarten’s poetics.  A complete representation may lack in some way the force of a simple representation.  The part image may give a concept (a didactic concept) more force through the complexity in which it stands for the whole, as Baumgarten suggests in comments on Horace (Baumgarten 1954, 49).  Some remarks by Baumgarten suggest that the highest status of poetry is to become like a weak sensation, so that poetry is ontologically secondary in relation to the world of perception of objects which are objects rather than depictions of objects (Baumgarten 1954, 52).   Baumgarten argues for the superiority of poetry to pictorial art through a version of Leibniz’s ontology.  The poem is not restricted to a flat plane and so is capable of a more full kind of representation (Baumgarten 1954, 52-53).  A representation of the wonderful is more poetic than a representation of the more ordinary, because it attracts more attention and is therefore a clearer representation (Baumgarten 1954, 53-54).  Baumgarten explicitly recognises conflicts and exceptions to rules are present in poetry.  Wonder is both more and less poetic.  Baumgarten suggests that it is less poetic, because where there there is wonder there is less confusion of representation.  As we have just seen a kind of confusion, expressed in the substitution of part for whole, gives poetic complexity according to Baumgarten.  Baumgarten finishes by referring to poetry and rhetoric as representations of sensate representations.  They are distinguished by the perfection of poetic representations and the imperfection  of rhetorical representations (Baumgarten 1954, 78-79).


Philosophy of Literary Judgement in Hegel V (last part)

(I’m just back after been out of  Istanbul for a while, and have found it difficult to keep up with blogging. One thing I have been doing is correcting a conference paper for publication in proceedings. That relates to the 2012 Hegel Gesellschaft conference in Istanbul, which will be published as a yearbook in 2014, presumably by Oldenbourg Akademie Verlag, who have published previous proceedings. As publication is some way, I think it’s perfectly in order to post the paper in parts, which anyway lack the formatting, pagination, proofing and copy editing of what will be the published version. As it’s based on an oral presentation it’s simple and direct by the standards of philosophy papers. The paper is part of work on progress on Philosophy of Literary Judgement. It draws on blogging and teaching preparation, so is an example of interaction between different forms of academic communication)

Hegel’s repeated death of art, including the repeated death of tragedy, is a necessary aspect of his philosophy, since the idea of conflicting values and of the good person at odds with the order of the world, is something that Hegel wants to overcome, as he overcomes the unhappy consciousness and the beautiful soul in the Phenomenology and as he overcomes the evil of subjective morality in the Philosophy of Right. If the highest form of philosophy leaves representation behind then the representations of art cannot harmonise with philosophy at its highest. Hegel also rejects the sublime as a basic category of aesthetics because of its subjectivity, as he sees it. It has been argued by Hegel commentators that the sublime resurfaces in disguised forms in Hegel, as in the role of Phantasie (Pillow 2000). The art and literature which follows Hegel is full of the conflicts between individual and world, along with the sublime experience of pure individuality and the attempt to represent the unrepresentable. The philosophy which follows Hegel is conditioned by the impossibility of the absolute knowing discussed in the Phenomenology, or the pure being discussed in the Science of Logic.

The progress from Phenomenology of Spirit to the later texts of Hegel is often one in which tensions, and limit cases, from the earlier text are missing. The relationship of brother and sister so important to the Phenomenology, with reference to the general role of the family, and to the historical transition from the Greek and Roman worlds is missing in the Philosophy of Right and the Philosophy of History, where you would expect that issue to be explored further. Phenomenology of Spirit is driven by a tragic spirit of the gap between subjectivity and absolute knowing, in combination with a spirt of interconnectedness of points of view in an affirmation of reality as an integrated whole, roughly speaking Pascal combined with Spinoza. The tense relation between those two positions itself tends to confirm the first position, and the later work of Hegel pushes towards eliminating the first position though never completely. The combination of tragic Pascal and affirmative Spinoza, and their tragic conflict, becomes Spinozistic oneness.  A very reductive and simplified way of looking, at Hegel but one which has great interpretative value as this paper has tried to demonstrate.


Philosophy of Literary Judgement in Hegel V

(I’ve been out of Istanbul for a while, and have found it difficult to keep up with blogging. One thing I have been doing is correcting a conference paper for publication in proceedings. That relates to the 2012 Hegel Gesellschaft conference in Istanbul, which will be published as a yearbook in 2014, presumably by Oldenbourg Akademie Verlag, who have published previous proceedings. As publication is some way, I think it’s perfectly in order to post the paper in parts, which anyway lack the formatting, pagination, proofing and copy editing of what will be the published version. As it’s based on an oral presentation it’s simple and direct by the standards of philosophy papers. The paper is part of work on progress on Philosophy of Literary Judgement. It draws on blogging and teaching preparation, so is an example of interaction between different forms of academic communication)

The Roman world of law gets beyond the polarisation of forms of law in Antigone, with the notion of the ‘persona’, legal personality, in its law codes. There is an individuation in Rome, which avoids tragic conflict, since we just have relations between individuals under the sovereign legal power, rather than irresolvable conflicts. Hegel seems to have overlooked conflict between individuals and that sovereign power, the state, or struggles which become political and violent in Roman history. The justification is probably that underneath all that the Roman state recognised individuality in ways which prevent the kind of conflicts that emerge in Athenian tragedy. A situation that Hegel finds bourgeois. Hegel brusquely dismisses Seneca’s plays as failures, which may be true with regard to performance, but is not true with regard to reading, and possibly recital in Seneca’s own time. Hegel is very dismissive of recitals of drama in general, while it is possible that this is directed at Seneca, there is no clear suggestion of such a thing. There are scholars who argue that Seneca’s plays were written more for private recital than public performance, and there have notbeen  many attempts, perhaps no attempts, to stage Seneca in recent years. Nevertheless Seneca is a major writer and he wrote tragedies. This overlooking of Seneca largely comes to Hegel’s need to see tragedy as a Greek problem of tension between natural, or divine, and civil law, which he sees as resolved in Roman law.

As we have seen tragedy, other than that of the Ancient Greeks, is a poor thing for Hegel. He contrasts ancient and modern tragedy.  He finds them very different, and finds that only Shakespeare can measure up to the great Athenians. Modern tragedy is weakened by the subjectivity and indecision of characters, along with the multiple life guiding concerns that emerge in plays and in the characters. Only Shakespeare rises above this by totally investing his main characters with some defining quality. Hegel sees German dramatic culture as marked by an undue wish to listen to the public and satisfy multiple interests and sympathies. As we have seen, sympathy is something that Hegel regards as a very inferior response to tragedy, if directed towards suffering rather than the principles of that character. French tragedy seems less prone to such an error, though Hegel pays little attention it. Anyway, tragedy has died in a world of multiplying interests and goals. Hegel is reacting to an increasingly bourgeois world, and a world of increasing legality. Again law and bourgeois individualism are the end of tragedy, and in this case the end of art.

Hegel’s view of tragedy in Aesthetics II is of what is essentially concerned with struggle between different subjective points of view, but also as what situates subjectivity in universality, through the chorus (1211). These ways of framing tragedy pull in different directions. If there is a conflict of subjective positions what guarantees that the chorus is universal and not just another moment in the conflicts of particular points of view. Any claim to universality should surely take all points of view in the play into account. Hegel was not sympathetic to agonistic aspects of ancient Greek states, that is the way that contests and proofs of personal excellence were at the centre of the culture. We could see the legal culture of ancient Athens in that light as well. It’s difficult for him to understand the ways in which law could operate within a contestatory agonistic culture, and not only as what rises above the agon. The tensions of tragedy can never be given the highest place in Hegel. Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1991) makes it clear why that is so.

What Hegel loses in going beyond ancient tragedy, after what he considers its final form in Antigone, is awareness of the tension between law as decided by state sovereignty, and law as defined by individual ideas of the good. He also loses the Athenian democratic world of citizenship, equality, and free speaking. All of this has to be contained for Hegel, as does any literary form concerned with individuality, mis-judgement, accident, loss of will, the cruelty of gods and rulers. Hegel’s philosophy depends on literature to explain how Spirit develops, and we can see in Aesthetics I, that he  needs to reject it to preserve the universalistic, intellectualist, deterministic, unitary, self-transparent, and eirenic,aspects of the dialectic (1163, 1172).


Philosophy of Literary Judgement in Hegel IV

(I’ve been out of Istanbul for a while, and have found it difficult to keep up with blogging. One thing I have been doing is correcting a conference paper for publication in proceedings. That relates to the 2012 Hegel Gesellschaft conference in Istanbul, which will be published as a yearbook in 2014, presumably by Oldenbourg Akademie Verlag, who have published previous proceedings. As publication is some way, I think it’s perfectly in order to post the paper in parts, which anyway lack the formatting, pagination, proofing and copy editing of what will be the published version. As it’s based on an oral presentation it’s simple and direct by the standards of philosophy papers. The paper is part of work on progress on Philosophy of Literary Judgement. It draws on blogging and teaching preparation, so is an example of interaction between different forms of academic communication)

The woman’s connection with her brother, who she is not linked to by sexual desire and who is not the product of any sexual union of which she is part, is itself an ethical aspect of the family, which is necessary for the family to have ethical meaning, and to be part of civil society.  Universality and national life are associated with men, which we can link with Creon, ruler of Thebes, in Antigone. Antigone, the character, represents an appeal to universality in the Phenomenology with regard to the burial of members of any human community, but does from the point of view of custom against the arbitrary nature of civil authority (§ 437. Hegel 1977, 261-262). Hegel’s account of the transition from the world of Antigone to the world of Roman law is Creon’s victory over Antigone in history, even if Hegel never puts it quite like that. The play contains reconciliation at the end, as all tragedy does, according to Hegel. He refers to he way that Creon realises he has made a mistake incurring divine displeasure, but too late to prevent the suicide of Antigone, followed by the suicide of Creon’s son who was engaged to Antigone, followed by the suicide of Creon’s wife. Two women and one young man are sacrificed leaving Creon still in power. In an abrupt moment of Hegelian history, the reconciliation in Antigone, that is Creon becoming wiser with regard to divine-feminine law, is followed by the move to a Roman ethics, based on isolated individualism under a more systematic form of state law.  Antigone’s sacrifice is an end to tragedy, and is the end of the Greek participatory city state, which is replaced by the Roman state of non-political individuals under law.  The reconciliation of divine-feminine law and human-male law at the end of Antigone must be understood then as  the greater articulation of state law, to give more rights to individuals who are now isolated from the formulation of law, and the government of the state.  Antigone dies because civil law cannot incorporate her one sided commitment to her brother, divine law, along with the forces of the earth, and the forces of death.

That ethics is grounded by civil law in the Roman world, which is surely the victory of Creon, who represents the universality that Hegel wants in both ethics and tragedy.  Tragedy must rise above subjective drives, sympathy for suffering (which Hegel associates with ‘provincial women’) and singularity. That is all about rising above the female, confirming the sacrifice of Antigone as necessary to the moral order of the Roman state.  The death of tragedy in Greece relates to the giving way of the Greek world to the Roman world. The death of tragedy is referred to the end of Greece, but on close inspection refers to a supposed failure of democracy in Athens. Rome is seen as less prone to a supposedly self-destructive democracy. Hegel expresses that largely as the role of law in Rome including the idea of a legal persona. He is less concerned with the form of sovereignty, but presumably regards the Roman republic as a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, in the manner of the two great thinker of Roman republicanism, Polybius and Cicero. The nature of Roman law under the state sovereignty of the Republic or of the Empire, is a counter to the instability Hegel sees in Athenian democracy.

Hegel himself refers to the importance of legal institutions in Athens when he discusses the emergence of the court of Areopagus in Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy as the merger of competing views of law. However, he evidently sees it as still torn between the customary (natural-divine) and civil political element. In Hegel’s view the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles show a world of pure ethics detached from the politics of Athens. That is an ethics which is pure in the unreflective commitment of characters to ethical reactions which are part of the social world in which they live. Such reactions lead to ethical ambiguity, for Hegel, because actions collide, and are explained by differing ethical references, which emerge in the process of conflicting actions, and in the process of discovering conflicts between immediate actions unguided by knowledge and ethical judgements in the light of knowledge.


Philosophy of Literary Judgement in Hegel III

(I’ve been out of Istanbul for the last 8 days, and have found it difficult to keep up with blogging. One thing I have been doing is correcting a conference paper for publication in proceedings. That relates to the 2012 Hegel Gesellschaft conference in Istanbul, which will be published as a yearbook in 2014, presumably by Oldenbourg Akademie Verlag, who have published previous proceedings. As publication is some way, I think it’s perfectly in order to post the paper in parts, which anyway lack the formatting, pagination, proofing and copy editing of what will be the published version. As it’s based on an oral presentation it’s simple and direct by the standards of philosophy papers. The paper is part of work on progress on Philosophy of Literary Judgement. It draws on blogging and teaching preparation, so is an example of interaction between different forms of academic communication)

What is usually regarded as the first moral theory in western philosophy emerges in the time of Sophocles and Euripides, in Plato and then in Aristotle. Plato draws on the the ideas of his teacher Socrates, and was also drawing on, and reacting to, the Sophists.   Though Hegel does not say so directly, his account suggests that tragedy belongs to the end of ethics in its pure state, in the moment in which moral theory is born. The idea of ethics as divine law preceding any deliberate reflection, or decision making, by humans is itself present in tragedy, but tragedy also questions it. Tragedy questions the existing customary ethical assumptions, in articulating them even if articulating them less clearly than in Plato or Aristotle. The moment of articulation is the moment of criticism, because it is the moment where the possibility of reflection on, and therefore criticism of principles becomes possible. To make assumptions and arguments explicit is to invite counter arguments, with other assumptions. So defending customary ethics is completely tangled up with its critique. Tragedy does not directly criticise customary ethics, but does express the uncertainty of traditional ethical assumptions, particularly with regard to conflict between assumptions, such as those of power and prudence in politics, individual intentions or crossing of boundaries as the basis for judging sin, or divine and state authority in law.

In Aesthetics I, Hegel sees Sophocles’ Oedipus the King as an expression of the way that customary ethics divides against itself (1226). Oedipus follows opportunities without reflection when he murders King Laius (not recognising him as his father) and marries Laius’s widow Jocasta (not recognising her as his mother).The completely natural way of life, which follows customary ethics spontaneously is shown to allow for sin, and therefore must divide against itself, as Hegel suggests in the Phenomenology. For Hegel tragedy is about conflicts of points of view which have gods beneath them.This is itself a reference to the way the Greek tragedies show gods, and the conflicts between gods, at the basis of terrible events in the life of the hero or a whole family. As we see in Oedipus, according to Hegel, the conflict can be between the natural and the less natural aspects of ethics, as described in the Phenomenology  that is between acting without thought and acting on reflection based on knowledge (§ 469, 283). Phenomenology § 469 refers clearly enough to Oedipus the King though not mentioning it directly, and shows much greater appreciation of ethical ambiguity in the play than in later brief remarks in Aesthetics I (188).

In The Phenomenology, that becomes the conflict between human and divine law in Antigone (§ 470, 284). Hegel may not have realised that Sophocles’ three Theban plays, Oedipus at Colonus in addition to the two just mentioned) were from separate trilogies written at different times, and only brought together because of the loss of all the other plays from those three trilogies. Hegel provides a back story to Antigone in his view of the development of Greek ethics before Socrates and the Sophists. It has very Viconian overtones, as do other passages in Hegel, but maybe by accident as Giambattista Vico (1984) is certainly not directly discussed by Hegel. The family buries its dead members, in a move which simultaneously affirms and contains the importance of the earth and of death, and any associated divine forces. The burial of the dead, and the ways the dead are preserved in memory are basic to the existence of the family, which is itself necessary for the existence of other ethical institutions. The starting point for Antigone is that Creon forbids everyone to mourn and bury the body of Polyneices who had attacked the city to take it from his brother. Antigone, brother to Polyneices, comes into conflict with Creon on this issue, and is condemned to be placed in a  tomb herself. This looks very connected with Hegel’s Phenomenology account of the relation between the family and its dead members, in which women are important. Women act as the guardians of the most material, elemental and customary aspects of ethics, and of the life of the family itself, a role in which the dead family members are protected from desire (presumably being eaten by animals or desecrated by humans).