chapter  11
Schopenhauer on tragedy and value
ByAlex Neill
Pages 14

Arguably the most ancient and the most sustained form that philosophical reflection on the ethical significance of art has taken is that of reflection on the character and value of our experience of tragedy. When Plato threatened to banish the tragic poets from his republic it was because of what he took to be the (in one way or another) morally damaging effect of the experience of their work on character; and the cornerstone of Aristotle’s defence of the ethical seriousness of tragedy has for centuries (rightly or wrongly) been taken to lie in his appeal to the kind of experience that tragedy characteristically makes available to its audience: the catharsis of pity and fear, and ‘the pleasure which derives from pity and fear by means of mimesis’.1 Following this puzzling if not downright paradoxical characterisation of the experience offered by tragic art (for how can what Aristotle himself describes2 as ‘painful’ feelings be a source of pleasure?) philosophical reflection on the ethical significance of this form of art has very largely been bound up with discussion of the place of pleasure in our experience of tragedy. My purpose in what follows is to explore the contribution to that discussion made by Schopenhauer’s account of our experience of the art of tragedy, and in particular his conception of the value of this variety of experience.