· The term “philosophy” came into the English language around the 1300s CE. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it means:
c. 1300, “knowledge, body of knowledge,” from Old French filosofie “philosophy, knowledge” (12c., Modern French philosophie) and directly from Latin philosophia and from Greek philosophia “love of knowledge, pursuit of wisdom; systematic investigation,” from philo- “loving” (see philo-) + sophia “knowledge, wisdom,” from sophis “wise, learned;” of unknown origin.Meaning “system a person forms for conduct of life” is attested from 1771.
· However, writing philosophy or including philosophical ideas in writing wasn’t a new concept in the 1300s. Many writers, including Plato in the Republic (380 BCE), wrote about philosophy long before the English language existed
So… What does it mean to study or write about philosophy?
(from textsfromyourexistentialist (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. on Instagram)
· People who study philosophy usually examine fundamental questions about life, existence, or themselves. To make these questions “easier to manage,” the study of philosophy is divided into the following areas (“What is Philosophy (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.? from Florida State University)
[note: further reading not required. I listed it in case you wanted to learn more!]
· Metaphysics – a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of things. It asks questions such as: “what is truth?” or “what is a person” or “is there a God?” Further reading here: “Metaphysics (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.” from the Encyclopedia Britannica.
· Epistemology – a branch of philosophy that studies how we know things. It asks questions like “how do we know what we know?” and “what is knowledge?” Further reading here: “Epistemology (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.” from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
· Ethics – a branch of philosophy that studies what is good or right. It asks questions like: “what is good?” or “what makes people good or bad?” or “how should we treat others?” Further reading here: “Ethics (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.” from the BBC.
· Logic – a branch of philosophy that studies arguments. It asks questions like: “how do we determine if the reasoning is good or bad?” and “what is good reasoning?” Further reading here: “Logic (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.” from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
· History of Philosophy – a branch of philosophy that studies how people thought in the past. It typically investigates the thinking of famous or well-known philosophers, like Aristotle, Descartes, or Sartre. Further reading here: “History of Philosophy (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.” from The Philosophical Society
· Philosophy in literature is literature that deals with philosophical questions, whether that be metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, or logic. Many texts can be said to be philosophical, even fictional ones. For example, The Epic of Gilgamesh considers what it means to be mortal and what makes for a good or bad king. The Ramayana engages with questions about what it means to be a good son or a dutiful wife.
· We explored the above texts by studying the transition of oral storytelling to literature –> This new module engages with the ways texts engage with philosophy or draw on philosophical concepts.
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· Start by watching this video on Aristotle’s philosophy:
· Oedipus Rex is labeled “a tragedy.” But what does it mean to be a tragic play, particularly in Ancient Athens?
· Tragedy is a type of literature emerging from Aristotle’s Poetics. According to Aristotle, a text must arouse fear and pity in order to be considered tragic.
· Example: Consider a movie with a likable main character who suffers, but eventually overcomes all odds in the end. You pity the main character, but you do not fear the story or its implications. Now… Consider a movie that arouses your feelings of fear, but no pity. This kind of movie usually falls into the horror genre.
· What Aristotle meant by fear and pity
· “Fear anticipates the performance of horrible acts by someone who does not fully understand what he or she is doing, or is compelled to do those acts against his or her volition” (“Aristotle’s Definition of Tragedy (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.” from the University of California, Santa Cruz)
· “Pity depends on the audience’s empathy with the doer of those acts; the understanding that, under similar circumstances, the spectator might have acted in the same manner” (“Aristotle’s Definition of Tragedy (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.” from the University of California, Santa Cruz)
· Tragedy resolves the feelings of pity and fear through catharsis, meaning purification or cleansing –> we are unsure exactly what Aristotle means by catharsis, but it is usually interpreted to mean “purging/cleansing an emotional state and replacing it with a feeling of virtue.” It’s like the feeling you get after watching a dramatic movie or reading a serious novel–as though you sympathize with the characteres and learned something important all at once. Hans-Georg Gadamer explains the idea in his book Truth and Method:
What is experienced in such an excess of tragic suffering is something truly common. The spectator recognizes himself [or herself] and his [or her] finiteness in the face of the power of fate. What happens to the great ones of the earth has exemplary significance. . . .To see that “this is how it is” is a kind of self-knowledge for the spectator, who emerges with new insight from the illusions in which he [or she], like everyone else, lives. (132)
· Quick note: Aristotle refers to theater when he writes about tragedy, but today tragedy can refer to all kinds of genres–novels, nonfiction writing, and so on…
· Other terms emerging from Aristotle’s Poetics are
· Peripeteia: “a reversal of fortune” (Norton 484) –> the main character experiences a change in fortune; usually from good luck (or a good life) to bad luck
· Anagnosis: “a recognition” (Norton 484) –> when a character makes an important discovery about themselves
· Hamartia: “mistake” (Norton 484) –> usually translated as “fatal flaw,” but meaning something close to “you can’t escape your destiny”
· Thought exercise: do you experience pity and fear for Oedipus? can you identify moments of peripeteia, anagnosis, and hamartia in Oedipus Rex?
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