Реферат: Creon and Antigone: Origins of Conflict through the Concept of Relative Virtues

<span Arial",«sans-serif»; mso-ansi-language:EN-US">Dmitry A. Rakul

<span Arial",«sans-serif»; mso-ansi-language:EN-US">Ethics and Leadership

<span Arial",«sans-serif»; mso-ansi-language:EN-US">Dr. Frick

<span Arial",«sans-serif»; mso-ansi-language:EN-US">February 23, 2007

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<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">Creonand Antigone: Origins of Conflict through theConceptof Relative Virtues

<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">Oneof the values of ancient literature is its reflections of fundamental societalrealities on the most basic level, allowing for deeper interpretation of socialrules and interactions. One example of these ancient texts, Sophocles’ Antigone, presents dilemmas between socially-constructedlaws and sacred norms andthe choice ofindividuals to overcome these constraints. Reactions of individuals when facedwith situations constructed by Sophocles stem from the nature of theircharacters, and might be interpreted utilizing ethical theories. Particularly, conceptionsof virtuous ethics might be superimposed upon twomajorcharacters of Sophocles’ text, Antigone andCreon, to uncover ethical foundations of their actions in origins and causes ofthe central conflict which indicates that the conception of virtues isrelative.

<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">            Thebasic foundation of virtuous ethical theory is an assumption that to beperceived as a virtuous person, there is a necessity for several factors to bepresent. Waller claims that a virtuous person “is one who consistently doesright acts for the right motives” (98). However, a better classification of avirtuous person follows from Aristotle, who insists a virtuous agent shouldfirst possess the knowledge, then choose acts for their own sake, and lastlyhis actions must proceed from character (98). Nevertheless, despite the widerange of variations among virtue theories, two basic elements remain essentialfor considering virtue – consideration of character in conducting ethicaljudgments and the necessity for consistency of ethical actions. Strong emphasison character of the person performing the act originates from the idea that ethicalchoices are not a product of chance, nor they are derived or calculated as a mereresponse to the particular situation. Instead, the final moral judgment is a resultof the specific intention originating from a certain personal moral code –virtue, which consists of internally developed set of moral ideals that aperson consistently strives to improve or at least to come as close as possible.Waller acknowledges that “one cannot be virtuous or perform good acts byaccident… it requires deliberate practice and consistent effort at characterbuilding… we aren’t naturally virtuous, but we have the capacity to becomevirtuous by practice” (98).

<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">Therefore, the idea of constantimprovement of character in the quest for striving for ideal personal traits isvividly seen throughout the virtue theory. Nonetheless, similar accentuation ismade on the consistency of performing good moral judgments and acts. This isthe key to identify true virtuous character in a person; otherwise, if theperson will be inconsistent, or willing to “give some slack” in particularsituations (especially those who will satisfy egotistical desires), orotherwise refrain to follow set moral standards, he or she is not considered a virtuousperson. Waller insists that inconsistency in moral decisions might lead todeveloping a habit, which suggests that a habit is a slippery slope towardsacquiring vicious personal traits ultimately leading to vicious character.Thus, both considerations of character traits and consistency in making right actsfor the right motives constitutes the backbone of virtuous theory, and thus arethe principle criteria for identification of virtuous moral choices.

<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">            However,the notions of virtuous character and consistency of actions are not given atbirth, but rather developed in the process of moral growth and ethical comingof age. Moreover, how does one receive the notion of ethical standards which,according to virtuous theory, he or she should always strive to achieve byconducting ethical choices? The underlying answer to this question lies in thenotion that the formation of ethical identity and personal moral ideals occursduring societal interaction under the influence of social roles and traditions.Since “we aren’t naturally virtuous” (Waller 98), and the achievement ofvirtuous characteristics occurs as a result of practice, there is a possibilityof forming new virtues or the modification or total substitution of alreadyexisting ones. Besides, the actual practice of constant improvement ofcharacter entails change or initial formation of notions of what to strive for,and these ideas come from the formal and informal process of acquiring ethicalknowledge from basic societal institutions of pedagogy – education, religion,personal experience, culture, time period, social surroundings, etc. Also,since virtues strictly exist in the personal realm and are a product ofinfluences of different educations, social roles and personal experiences inthe individual character development, the formation of variety of virtues areformed by social educational institutions, variety of virtues might be formedin a separate societal unit or a society in whole. Therefore, virtue andvirtuous motives and character might vary on a societal and personal level,making virtue not absolute, but rather a relative concept.

<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">            Sophoclesbrilliantly highlights this notion of relative virtue in the character ofAntigone and the further portrayal of a clash of virtues resulting in herconflict with Creon. First of all, the formation of her virtues was accompaniedby a series of quite dramatic events – Antigone witnessed the tragic fall ofher father, who married his mother, and therefore Antigone and Ismene had tolive with a stamp of being both daughters of their half-brother andgranddaughters of their mother. These circumstances aligned Antigone’s internalideals, assigning overriding values to extreme religious piety and inviolacy oflaws prescribed by gods. This reliance on religion, fortified by her ownpersonal family tragedy with time translated in the virtues of her character,where striving for an eternal afterlife with thedeadbecame of greater value for Antigone then her present life: “I have longer toplease the dead then please the living here… in the kingdom down below I’ll lieforever” (Fagles 63). Here, her value system is based upon her life after andthus “pleasing dead” becomes her dominant virtue.

<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">            Althoughreligious educations supported by factual examples from family experience wereprimary agents that shaped Antigone’s virtues, they were not the only influence.She also has numerous social roles, which also contributed to the developmentof her moral character and the shaping ofhervirtues. In the society described by Sophocles, she is the noble daughter of KingOedipus, a loving sister of Ismene and a fiancé of Haemon, a Greek andtherefore she is under obligations of patriotism. She is a citizen of <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:City w:st=«on»>Thebes</st1:City></st1:place> as well, andtherefore she must conform to thelaws of theland set by the King. Despite all of these factors that helped shape Antigone’scharacter, the greatest impact on the formation of her virtues is the fact thatshe is a woman, and therefore she has to be submissive to the rule of men. Thisconcept, instilled by the norms and traditions of ancient Greek society, is bestexpressed by Ismene: “Remember we are women, we’re not born to contend withmen… then too, we’re underlings, ruled by much stronger hands” (Sophocles 62).

<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">Theconsideration of these values and their role in the formation of virtue ofAntigone went to Creon’s calculations about his decision on the incident. Aboveall, Creon from his position of the highest royalty, has to be the ultimateembodiment of social arrangements: he has to defend societal norms, promoterules and show ability to enforce laws. As a man he has to defend the commonnotion of superiority of males over females, and as a father he has todemonstrate a will to teach and instruct his children. These moral obligationsand societal traditions form the basis of Creon’s character, and also create afoundation for his virtues, where he always should strive to defend society andits traditions.

<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">Therefore,because of the different origins of virtues and differences of the personalvirtues themselves, there is a misalignment between Antigone’s notion of idealsand Creon’s personal standards. The rule of consistency as an importantcomponent to the existence of virtue makes both characters to act as theirvirtues dictate them, remain truthful to their values, and force making ethicaldecisions in sync with their moral codes. Therefore, when Antigone faces Creon,she refuses to even accept king’s laws as legitimate: “Nor did I think youredict had such force that you, a mere mortal, could override the gods, thegreat unwritten, unshakable traditions… these laws – I was not about to breakthem” (Sophocles 82). Here Antigone is displays strong commitment to achievethe ideal reputation of honoring the laws of gods and paying proper attentionto the dead, refusing to be subjected to laws made by mortal, even if themortal is a king. Since her virtue dictates her to choose actions which willbring satisfaction in the afterlife in addition to her belief that she shouldhonor the sacred laws before the common laws, and in her understanding if theconflict emerge between these rules, the sacred laws always override man-made.Creon’s prohibition of burial is not seen by Antigone’s system of values as alegitimate law since it contradicts the holy tradition, but rather a blasphemouspractice, and therefore her life-goal becomes to preserve the sacred law. Hersystem of believes does not differentiate the dead – her interpretation of thesacred law is in accordance to her value system – everybody deserves honor indeath, especially if this person is a close relative. Thus her duty to defendthis practice only reinforces the virtue to strive to religious ideals, and evenallows dismissal of the very value of life, elevating death as not thediscontinuation of living, but rather a prospect for reunification with lovedones.

<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">However,Creon has a different perspective on the situation. Since his system ofbelieves stem primarily from responsibilities of his social role as a king anda ruler, rather then from feelings generated from emotions, especially thosecoming out from the mouth of women. His virtues are based on law and theadherence to the rules, and the traditions of society; he accentuates that “wemust defend the men who live by law” (Sophocles 94). On the contrary, hisvirtue denies actions that follow because of affections: “Never let some womantriumph over us… better to fall from power, if fall we must, at the hands of aman – never be rated inferior to a woman, never” (Sophocles 94). Because ofthese factors, the virtue of his character are totally contrary to virtues ofAntigone, where he has an evengreater aspirationto preservation of law, order and traditions of the society than the sacredlaws or feelings of affection.

<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">Thereforethe central conflict of the play develops not simply between personalities of Creonand Antigone, but rather it emerges on basis of more profound belligerentdissidence between differences of perceptions, differences of moral ideals,and, most importantly, differences in virtues. Antigone’s virtue dictates herto see Creon’s actions as illegitimate and according to her a barrier toexercising her sacred moral duty, or even sacrilege of ancient sacredtraditions. On the contrary, Creon sees Antigone’s views as a threat to thesocial stability and his order of the law, which he sees as a shortcut tochange in the status of women, inevitably leading to anarchy. He simply seesher action as acts of insubordination, and attempts to grasp power out of men’shands, which will result negatively. His personal justification of this viewfollows from his the conversation with only son Haemon: “…never loose yoursense of judgment over woman…  worthlesswoman in your house, a misery in your bed…whoever steps out of line, violatesthe laws or presumes to hand out orders to his superiors, he’ll win no praisefor me… anarchy – show me a greater crime in all the earth!” (Sophocles 93-94).Thus, his virtues largely based on duties of his social role as a king,polarize his life goals, transforming his perception toward one sided vision ofthe fulfillment of the law to the letter and enforcement at any cost. Thisvirtue denies any argumentation of Antigone, Haemon and Tiresias identifyingthem as faulty and targeted only at undermining his authority, authority of thelaw and traditions. The dissonance between virtues of both characters andinability to accommodate for individual ideals and life goals ultimately leads tothe tragic resolution of the conflict.

<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">            Therefore,Sophocles’ Antigone provides a situation which may be interpreted utilizingviews of virtue theory. In fact, it provides aclearstance on the nature of the concept of virtue, where, similar to the fact thatthere are no identical personalities Sophocles exemplifies that each individualpossesses a unique set of virtues, which are different from set of virtues ofother person. Although virtue theory does not specify whether virtues areuniversal or differentiate, Sophocles, by clever portrayal of the conflictbetween Antigone and Creon provides clear example of conflicting virtues andtragic events that follows. If the key players of the conflict recognized theconcept of relative virtues and arrived at mutual understanding, the conflictmight be less dramatic, or even might not arise at all.

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<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">WorksCited

<span Arial",«sans-serif»; mso-ansi-language:EN-US">Sophocles. The Three Thebian Plays. Translatedby Robet Fagles. <st1:place w:st=«on»><st1:State w:st=«on»>New York</st1:State></st1:place>:

<span Arial",«sans-serif»;mso-ansi-language:EN-US">PenguinPublishing Group, 1984

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<span Arial",«sans-serif»; mso-ansi-language:EN-US">Waller, Bruce. Consider Ethics. <st1:State w:st=«on»><st1:place w:st=«on»>New York</st1:place></st1:State>: PearsonLongman, 2005