Volume 11, Issue 4, Winter 1989
Tragedy and Nonhumans
The concept of tragedy has been central to much of human history; yet, twentieth-century philosophers have done little to analyze what tragedy means outside of the theater. Utilizing a framework from MacIntyre’s After Virtue, I first discuss what tragedy is for human beings and some of its ethical implications. Then I analyze how we use the concept with regard to nonhumans. Although the typical application of the concept to animals is thoroughly anthropocentric, I argue first that the concept of tragedy can be applied directly to nonhumans (a) because the loss of potential for some nonhumans may be as a great or greater than loss of potential for some humans to whom the concept applies and (b) because tragedy depends on what is valued and, for those creatures that do not conceptualize death, the destruction of the present moment through pain and suffeling is the ultimate loss, and second that self-awareness in the human sense is not necessary for tragedy.