Emotion, Reason and Political-Legal Bond: Ideas from Greek Literature

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The traditional representation of (the) Hellenic world relies on the close and symmetric relation between Greek culture, understood as the origin of the Western model, and ‘reason’ (including its legal-political reflexes). This reading dates back to the German neo-humanistic movement of the XIXth century, from Johann Winkelmann to Werner Jaeger and, although its recent (and partial) review by Martha Nussbaum, it moves from a peculiar interpretation of some moments of the Hellenic framework as a whole (mythology, art, literature and philosophy). This perspective mainly aims to remove the role of ‘emotion’ and, more widely, allows the equation ‘Western culture=reason’ or, in a consequent manner, ‘law=reason’. On the contrary Greek world presents a more articulated relation reason-emotion. Within the Hellenic context ‘emotion’, very broadly considered, seems to have a dialectic role: as a fundamental factor in order to almost rationally build the social-political-legal life and, at the same time, as a potential disruptive factor of the polis. Within the Homeric world some relevant tracks of this complex model emerge, especially in the light of two elements closely related to each other: the political-representative role played by the primitive forms of agora and the institution of the ‘duel’, which is to be regarded as a crucial legalpolitical tool to control the emotive dimension in the archaic world. Anyway only tragedy, through a reinterpretation of myth, offers relevant examples of the ambiguous role played by emotion within the polis: both as a building factor of the public space, closely related to the public function of tragedy, and as a disruptive force (with particular regard to the female dimension: for instance Medea and Electra). According to a very significant continuity literature-philosophy, Aristotle synthesizes in a more specifically political-legal direction this complex tradition: similarly to the Platonic perspective, within Aristotle’s model polis and its peculiar political-legal institutions are grounded in emotion. The Stagirite emphasizes both the constructive profile of emotion, which is grounded in the notions of philia and thymos as bases of the polis, and, on the opposite, its dialectical and ‘dangerous’ aspect (i.e. the doctrine of pathos and chatarsis elaborated in his Rhetoric). In a wider perspective this re-interpretation of the Hellenic world elicits a new look over the nature of law as well as with regard to the anthropological model underlying the western legal tradition. From the beginning law (generally meant: ‘private’ and ‘public’) and politics structurally presented an ‘emotive’ profile and, then, took shape as a ‘tragic dilemma’. Hence the necessity to radically rethink the traditional pair emotion-reason and, especially, its role as the anthropological condition of the political-legal bond.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDOSSIER The Harmonies and Conflicts of Law, Reason and Emotion: A Literary-Legal Approach Proceedings of the Special Workshop on ‘Law and Literature’ held at 27th IVR World Conference Washington, D.C. 27 July – 1 August 2015
EditorsF Faralli, J Gaakeer, M Campos Galuppo, MP Mittica, AC De Faria Silvestre Rodrigues
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Publication series



  • Emotion-Reason-Law-Greek universe-Homer-Tragedy-Aristotle
  • Emozione-Ragione-Diritto-Universo greco-Omero-Tragedia


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