Volume 97, Issue 3, Summer 2023
Christopher W. Love
Virtue and the Paradox of Tragedy
What accounts for our pleasure in tragic art? In a widely-cited essay, Susan Feagin argues that this pleasure has moral roots; it arises when we discover ourselves to be the sort of people who respond sympathetically to another’s suffering. Although critical of Feagin’s particular solution to the tragedy paradox, I too believe that our pleasure in tragedy often has moral roots. I trace those roots differently, however, by placing the concept of virtue front and center. I argue that a noble pleasure arises when we perceive virtue in tragic characters and when we practice it ourselves as audience members. My account draws on insights from the history of philosophy, most notably Aquinas’s conception of the virtues of charity and mercy in the Summa.