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The philosophy of tragedy & the tragedy of philosophy – with Simon Critchley

Tragedy in art, from Ancient Greece to Breaking Bad, resists all our efforts to tie reality up in a neat bow, to draw some edifying lesson from it. Instead it confronts us with our own limitations, leaving us scrabbling in the rubble of certainty to figure out what's next.
Key Takeaways
  • Why democracy has been unpopular with philosophers
  • Tragedy's reminder that the past isn't finished with us
  • …and why we need art in the first place

Well into her 90’s, my grandma Selma and I had this running conversation about the state of the world. She’d escaped Polish pogroms as a 5 year old, lived through the loss of half her relatives in World War II, and saw the founding of the UN in 1945 and NATO in 1949 as signs of a world sick of chaos and finally ready to be sensible and humane.

Well, that’s not really how things turned out, is it. And I spent a lot of time trying and failing to reassure Selma that there was still hope in the world, just on a smaller, more localized scale.

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But what if the real problem isn’t the world but our obsessive tendency to systematize and sanitize it? My guest today, philosopher Simon Critchley, looks to the form of tragedy in theater—from Ancient Greece to Shakespeare and maybe also to Breaking Bad, as a possible antidote. In his new book TRAGEDY, THE GREEKS, AND US, he shows us how tragedy works, why Plato was scared of it, and how it answers the kind of deflated idealism my grandma Selma was dealing with.

Surprise conversation starters in this episode:

Ashton Applewhite on happiness and aging


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