La conversione tragica in Hume

  • Filippo Contesi Universitat de Barcelona
Keywords: Hume, tragedia, passioni, affetti


According to Hume, the pleasures that appreciators experience from good tragedies are critically accounted for by the unpleasantness associated with the events those tragedies represent. This account appeals to a process of conversion of the unpleasant into the pleasant. Understanding the nature and plausibility of such a process has often been a point of contention. Two of the more prominent contemporary interpretations of Hume’s conversion process – respectively advanced by Malcolm Budd (1991) and Alex Neill (1998) – put forward two contrasting views of the role of unpleasantness in Hume’s view of the pleasures of tragedy. In the present paper I argue that both Budd’s and Neill’s readings find some textual support in “Of Tragedy”, but that neither of them can do complete justice to the text of Hume’s essay. By contrast, as is my aim to show, what I call a ‘two-stage interpretation’ of Hume’s conversion thesis is consistent with a body of textual evidence that neither Budd’s nor Neill’s interpretations can accommodate in its entirety. Moreover, I argue that, on a two-stage interpretation, Hume’s conversion thesis is immune to Budd’s main criticism according to which Hume would be putting forward an inadequate view of tragedy where there is no place for unpleasantness and where, inexplicably, negative emotions are not experienced as unpleasant.


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