A simple solution to the paradox of negative emotion

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Suffering Art Gladly: The Paradox of Negative Emotion in Art

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Palgrave Macmillan


Philosophers have long been perplexed by the way in which works of art move us when they elicit so-called negative emotions such as pity, fear, sorrow, and anger. What is perplexing is that these emotions are generally considered to be unpleasant to experience, yet people seem to enjoy and value the works of art that arouse them. Depending on the context, this fact is referred to as ‘the paradox of tragedy’, ‘the paradox of horror’, or simply ‘the paradox of negative emotion’.

Today there is no generally accepted solution to this ‘paradox’. But the situation is certainly not due to a lack of effort on the part of philosophers to come up with a solution. Levinson, in his excellent (1997) survey, counts at least five types of solution. In what follows, my focus will be on three of them, or more accurately, four, because one comprises two types distinguished by Levinson. The types have been selected mainly because they seem to represent what are today considered to be good candidate solutions. My own preferred solution belongs to one of the types, but differs, to the best of my knowledge, from any of the existing token solutions. (If this last claim turns out to be false, then my aim in this chapter is simply to contribute to the defence of an existing candidate solution.) Crucial to the defence of this new solution is the normative sense of predicates such as ‘is moving’, ‘is touching’, ‘is powerful’, and ‘is gripping’. Roughly, the solution itself is that, in their normative sense, these predicates designate aesthetic properties that we enjoy and value experiencing, even though, in the cases which generate the paradox at issue, the enjoyment comes at a price.



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ISBN of the source publication: 9780230349834

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Recommended Citation

De Clercq, R. (2014). A simple solution to the paradox of negative emotion. In J. Levinson (Ed.), Suffering Art Gladly: The Paradox of Negative Emotion in Art (pp. 111-122). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. doi: 10.1057/9781137313713_6