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Understanding art through causality: a study of Aristotle’s poetics


The Poetics has often been seen as an extraneous body in Aristotle's whole corpus. Many have questioned its philosophical status, and wondered how poetry may fit in Aristotle's conception of a truly good human life. I will defend two main theses. First, I argue that Aristotle' inquiry in the Poetics is a truly philosophical one, if by philosophy, one understands, as Aristotle does, the inquiry into the causes that explain why such and such thing or living being works the way it does. And second, I show that the Poetics is meant to address those who want to understand how poetry works, that is, the citizens of Athens who go to the theater and want to better appreciate the plays they attend (or read). Going to the theater allows human beings to experience two typically human reactions: the emotions of pity and fear; and laughter. And since these two reactions are natural, and naturally pleasant, it may be thought that Aristotle considered them (even if he perhaps never says so explicitly) that they both are part and parcel of eudaimonia, a truly good, human life (A similar account is given for music in Politics, book 8, where music is supposed to be one activity of leisure that distinguishes a happy life). A consequence of this is that (contrary to what most scholars say on the basis of no evidence) Aristotle took comedy to be as valuable as tragedy; and I reconstruct what Aristotle would have said in the lost second book of the Poetics from what he says on humour in his Rhetoric (mainly, in book 3). And a corrolary to this last point is the importance of humour in Aristotle's work more generally. Humour is indeed an important philosophical tool in Greek philosophy, especially in Aristotle where it works as a sort of protreptic: it forces you to either agree with Aristotle when he rejects a theory as wrong, or to put into question your own views on such and such a matter. (AU)

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