Heidegger and the Question of Tragedy

Open Access
Gover, Karen Elizabeth
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
November 01, 2004
Committee Members:
  • John Sallis, Committee Chair
  • Charles Edward Scott, Committee Member
  • Dennis Schmidt, Committee Member
  • Daniel Leonhard Purdy, Committee Member
  • John Philip Christman, Committee Member
  • Heidegger
  • tragedy
Heidegger and the Question of Tragedy, examines the significance of ancient Greek tragedy for the thought of arguably the most important philosopher of the twentieth century and critic of modern Western society, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). References to Greek tragedy only appear in Heidegger?s writing during the years 1933-1946. This decade and a half following the 1927 publication of Being and Time is considered to be the most important, and undoubtedly the most controversial, period in Heidegger?s long career. I argue that Heidegger?s thought of the tragic illuminates an irresolvable tension that he finds at the origin of the Western tradition and its understanding of being. This tension appears at the inception of Western thought as the tendency for being to show itself as pure presence; as a stable, unchanging origin; an infinite source of all beings. While this interpretation of being has taken various forms during the epochs of the Western tradition, it has consistently and with accelerating force resulted in the concealment of the temporal character of being. According to Heidegger?s diagnosis, this oblivion of being has led in the modern age to an increasingly fervent drive for technological mastery of nature and peoples; a hubristic faith in the human capacity to order and control; and an understanding of truth that tends to universalize and to assure human dominion. Yet Heidegger finds that the modern obsession with technological mastery and scientific truth, while nearly indomitable, betrays in its very fervency a tacit acknowledgement, concealed from itself, of this other, hidden character of being that cannot be captured by the conceptual tools for thinking it that the tradition assigns. Heidegger?s fundamental, tragic insight is that both the understanding of being as pure presence and the self-concealing counterplay of being in its temporal, finite character issue from being itself; that the manifestation of being is also its concealment, and that this dynamic structure in which being is constantly at odds with itself is proper to it.