Painful Art and the Limits of Well-Being

In Jerrold Levinson (ed.), Suffering Art Gladly: The Paradox of Negative Emotions in Art. Palgrave/ Macmillan (2013)
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In this chapter I explore what painful art can tell us about the nature and importance of human welfare. My goal is not so much to defend a new solution to the paradox of tragedy, as it is to explore the implications of the kinds of solutions that I find attractive. Both nonhedonic compensatory theories and constitutive theories explain why people seek out painful art, but they have troublesome implications. On some narrow theories of well-being, they imply that painful art is bad for us. Accordingly, we may rightly wonder if it rational for people to watch melodramas or to listen to love songs. One might think that we should generally avoid unpleasant works of art. This implication flirts with absurdity. I show how it can be avoided by making a distinction between well-being and worth.
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