Moral psychology of catharsis, a essay of reconstruction

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This paper argues for an interpretation of catharsis that integrates psychology, ethics and aesthetics. A careful reexamination of the reference to musico-poetic catharsis in Politics 8 shows that, contrary to received opinion, catharsis is not there divorced from Aristotle's view of the ethical significance of emotional responses to mimetic (i.e. representational/expressive) art-forms. Politics 8 also supplies reason to suppose that catharsis is closely associated with, but not identical to, pleasure. Tragic catharsis is best understood as the benefit accruing from the transformation of painful into pleasurable emotions within the contemplation (theorein) of mimetic art. This reading allows catharsis to be harmonised with Aristotle's moral psychology as a whole: intense emotional responsiveness to << aesthetic >> objects can contribute to the appropriate exercise of ethically attuned dispositions. Catharsis is not just the end-result of watching a tragedy; it supervenes on the entire cognitive-cum-emotional experience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499
Number of pages20
JournalÉtudes Philosophiques
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2003


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