Aristotles concept of catharsis

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Mimesis, Catharsis, and Pleasure:
An Investigation into Aristotle’s Tragic Pleasure
Bradley Elicker
Temple University
Abstract: Aristotle writes the Poetics as an investigation into representational art and, more specifically, as an investigation into the art form of tragedy. While Aristotle goes into great detail regarding the technical aspects of creating and appreciating a work of tragedy, he is somewhat lacking in his descriptions of how tragedy is enjoyed by an audience. Aristotle speaks of this tragic pleasure in two ways; as the pleasure of mimesis, and as the pleasure of catharsis. If we come to understand the Aristotelian concept of pleasure as an activity as opposed to a process, and the distinction between
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It would seem, however, that they are wrong, and pleasure is not even a process.”2

In Metaphysics Aristotle explains the distinction between an activity and a process. He writes that each process “is for the sake of an end”3 while an activity will be an end in


Nicomachean Ethics 1173a 29-33
Metaphysics 1048b 19


and of itself. He uses the examples of losing weight as opposed to seeing to show this difference. Aristotle writes that when one is in the process of losing weight, there is a specific end to which the process strives towards, this end is having lost weight. In the action of losing weight, the end is not present. The end of having lost weight will only occur after the process of losing weight has been completed. The same is not true of seeing. When we see something, the end is having seen it. This end is present in the action of seeing. When we say that we see something, we can also say that we have seen it. The end is in the action itself, and the action is its own end. In this way seeing is an activity and not a process.
Aristotle writes that a process will have some type of duration between the time that it is begun and the time that it is completed. When someone attempts to lose weight, there is a certain duration of time between beginning the process of losing weight and the end of the process, having lost weight. By contrast, an activity is complete at all times.
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