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Document Details :
Title: Autonomy and Unhappy Consciousness
Author(s): HEYDE, Ludwig
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 5 Issue: 4 Date: December 1998
Perhaps even more radically than under the criticism of the ‘Maîtres du soupçon’, a whole world goes down in Greek comedy. Not only traditional religion, but also ethical life and finally even reason itself seem to be affected by the all-destroying power of laughter.
The title of Aristophanes’ famous play ‘The Clouds’ has a symbolic meaning: in the comedy, Greek ethical life dissolves into a vanishing mist. Behind the player’s mask hides the principle of this total decomposition: the autonomous, selfconfident individual. This event does not only have a theatrical meaning. It does not only exist in the artist’s imagination. It concerns a whole nation, a whole culture. The comedy is an expression of the way society understands itself. It represents in an aesthetic way the fact that the individual human being sees himself as ‘principium essendi et cognoscendi’ of everything. The comedy voices a new truth, namely that all truth begins and ends with man. The gods — symbols of truth and actuality- have dissolved in the shamelessness of a laughter, which does not halt for anything anymore. Formulated in modern terms: the comedy voices the philosophical principle that from now on the subject will be the reference point of all reality. Long before Descartes’s Cogito, a metaphysics of subjectivity here finds one of its remarkable expressions.