Tragedy, Fate, and Heroism - web lecture and discussion

Thursday, November 26, 2020

 Zoom seminar [zoom link; Pass: 831749] 16:00-18:00 (UTC+2) which is 15:00-17:00 CET

Dr. Chiel van den Akker (Vrie Universitiet Amsterdam, The Netherlands) discusses "Tragedy, Fate, and Heroism".



Central to our modern conception of agency is that we are responsible for the actions we do intentionally and the consequences we knew would follow from them – and only those action. At the same time, we know that other descriptions of our doings and their consequences are possible, including  descriptions under which we did not intend the action and did not foresee its consequences. We cannot be held responsible for the actions under those descriptions. The latter contrasts with the sense of responsibility found in ancient tragedy, where its heroes typically do take responsibility for actions they did not do intentionally and for consequences they did not knew would follow from them. We would say that Oedipus cannot be held responsible for parricide, even though Oedipus did kill his father, which set an unfortunate course of events into motions, all of which he heroically takes responsibility for - as if he was aware that narrative exercises an authority over actions not reducible to his intentions and knowledge of the consequences of his actions. This narrative authority over action, determining its appropriate description, also qualifies historical narrative.

In this talk I am interested in the distinction between pre-modern and modern conceptions of agency as it is drawn by Hegel and the present-day reader of him Robert Brandom in his recent A Spirit of Trust. I am also interested in what the distinction reveals about the relation between tragedy and history-writing, as both are concerned with responsibility, (in)justice, and the unintended and uncontrollable consequences of actions. My remarks will be preliminary.

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Last updated: 19.11.2020