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James M. Edie APPEARANCE AND REALITY: AN ESSAY ON THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE THEATER IN The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Etienne Gilson suggests that the history of philosophy is to the philosopher what the laboratory is to the scientist. By working through the history of philosophy we find that all philosophical doctrines necessarily and ideally work themselves out to their ultimate conclusions. By studying the history of ideas we get an insight into what philosophy truly is. I wish to propose that within the broad area of contemporary philosophical interest which is called the "Theory of Action" the philosopher can use the artificial presentation of acting in the theater as a laboratory in which he can experiment on and exhibit his deeper philosophical concerns. By studying "playing" and "acting" we will discover the deeper insights which will enable us to understand human "action" in general. There is an important distinction in the philosophy of language— which we will see later on also applies to the philosophy of action—between what are called, following Nelson Goodman, "autographic" and "allographic" works of art. An autographic work of art is one like a piece of sculpture, a temple, or a painting, which has one continuous historical existence from the moment of its creation to the moment of its ultimate destruction or disappearance. With the Venus de Milo, or the Victory of Samothrace, or the Mona Lisa you either have the authentic "autograph" or you do not. Allographic works of art, on the other hand, are those which, like symphonies or plays or works of literature, depend for their existence on a notational system which is characterized by all of the properties of the ideality of language. That is, allographic works of art, thanks to their linguistic structure, share the characteristics of ideality, repeatability, and sameness of content each time they are performed. This is above all true of works of art which are primarily meant to be performed in the present and therefore to repeat at various moments in historical time the same meaning. This 4 Philosophy and Literature possibility of indefinite repetition gives us the very notion of a literary "text." The ontological status of the meaning of such a text is very different from that of an "autograph." We will be returning to this distinction and its implications later on. For now we are concerned with the theory of action, keeping in mind that we intend to use it in an examination of writings ofplaywrights, who, like Pirandello, Sartre, Brecht, Anouilh, Genet, and others, not only exemplify in their plays but develop and hold theories of acting. In philosophy, the generalized theory of action begins with the ancient distinction made by Aristotle between immanent and transitive actions, the former being mental and volitional acts which emanate from the subject and remain in the subject as perfections of the subject, whereas the latter are activities which any being can exercise on another: in the manner in which billiard balls strike one another or men build houses and train horses. This ancient distinction culminated in Thomas Aquinas' theory of "the human act," a theory which distinguishes specifically human acts from all others. Man can perform many actions which are not distinctively "human," such as belching, twitching, copulating , and so on. For an act to be distinctively "human" it must involve deliberate intention and at least some foreknowledge of the consequences of the act. It is on this distinction that the later Lutheran, Kantian, Jamesian, and manycontemporary theories of"the free act" arebased. Aspecifically human free-act involves moral and sometimes legal responsibility for the consequences of the action, and is one that is done deliberately, and for which one is held accountable. Such a theory of human action would seem at first glance to have nothing to do with the theater. It is precisely this which would seem to distinguish acting in the real world from the kind of acting that is presented to us in the theater. For example, the world of Sartre, as it has been given to us in his major novels and plays, has a special ontological status different from our mundane world of perception, which we can never...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 3-17
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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