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The Man Who Mistook his Handlung for a Tat: Hegel on Oedipus and Other Tragic Thebans

  • Constantine Sandis (a1)

Extract

Throughout his work Hegel distinguishes between the notion of an act (Tun) from the standpoint of the agent (behaviour in so far as it relates to one's own foreknowledge, purpose, intention, and knowledge) and that of all other standpoints (e.g. legal, scientific, cultural, etc.). He terms the former Handlung (action) and the latter Tat (deed). This distinction should not be confused with the contemporary one between action and mere bodily movement. For one, both Handlung and Tat are aspects of conduct that results from the will, viz. Tun (LA 1160ff.). Moreover, Hegel's taxonomy is motivated purely by concerns relating to modes of perception. So whereas theorists such as Donald Davidson assert that all actions are events that are intentional under some description, Hegel reserves the term ‘action’ for those aspects of behaviour that are highlighted by a specific (albeit contested) set of agent-related descriptions. This is not an ontological category, since there are no such objects as actions-under-specific-descriptions (see Anscombe 1979).

Sophocles's Theban Trilogy reveals the central role that these notions must play in any Hegelian understanding of tragic drama. Indeed the contrasts that matter most to Hegel's general take on both epic and tragic poetry are more closely related to the study of action than the standard theory attributed to Hegel would seem to allow. It is more fruitful, then, to incorporate Hegel's insights into such tragedies to the model of action employed by him than it is to try to make them fit whatever ‘theory’ of tragedy might appear to be hinted at in his Aesthetics.

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The Man Who Mistook his Handlung for a Tat: Hegel on Oedipus and Other Tragic Thebans

  • Constantine Sandis (a1)

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