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Examines the moral decision of Antigone to bury her dead brother against the legal decree of King Creon.... More...
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Examines the moral decision of Antigone to bury her dead brother against the legal decree of King Creon.
This study will examine the moral decision of Antigone, in Sophocles' play Antigone, to bury her dead brother against the legal decree of Creon, the King of Thebes. Antigone grants that her brother Polyneices has indeed broken the law by trying to take over Thebes (the reason that Creon wants to disallow his burial), but Antigone argues that there is a higher law than the legal code, a higher law which is based on the sacred tie of blood relations. She argues that the gods support her in her effort to bury her brother. The decision may cost her her life, but she is determined to do everything she can to follow and abide by what she sees as a higher moral calling. After an examination of the decision itself, this study will apply the ethical theories of Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham to that decision.
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However, Benthamis wrong because his definition of "happiness" is too narrow. He is so blinded by his pettiness that he cannot see the disasterhe is about to bring upon himself and the "State" he purports to love. As the pressure builds against him to bury Polyneices and freeAntigone, Creon behaves again like a child who is being picked upon.Finally, however, he recognizes the error of his ways, the fact that he hasbeen driven by his "stubborn pride," and that "The laws of the gods aremighty, and a man must serve them/ To the last day of his life" (Sophocles439). is to discover how we are to arrive at principles of behavior that are binding upon all men. . rests upon the principle of utility, for it really says that the greatest happiness of the greatest number can be achieved only if we obey the law (Stumpf 358). In announcing his decision to prevent the burial of Polyneices, Creondeclares that his primary principle is his dedication to doing whatever heneeds to do to ensure the survival of the State. An analysis of both theutilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and the moral imperative of Immanuel Kanthelp us to understand the rightness of Antigone's decision. When she isbrought before Creon she fearlessly tells him that he is wrong, that hisdecree is meaningless in the face of the will of God. In opposition to Bentham's utilitarianism, Antigone might argue thatshe could not have had any happiness in any case had she not buried herbrother, for she would have defied the gods as well as the powerful callingof her own conscience had she not buried him. She is not "crazy" at all, although Choragos, Creon, Ismene and otherssee her as "crazy" precisely because she values honor, duty and moralityabove living a life of fear and dishonor. When I consider what I must do . Because at the very beginning of the play the decision has clearlyalready been made by Antigone to bury her brother, the rest of the play ismeant to establish the ethical standard by which that decision has beenmade, to contrast her decision with the contrasting stands of the vengefulCreon and the fearful Ismene, and to follow the implementation of thatdecision by Antigone and the consequences of that act. He is so single-minded about having revenge onPolyneices that he hears or sees nothing which might awaken and save him. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.----------------------- 11 Kantbelieves that The task of moral philosophy . Clearly, Kant would support Antigone'sdecision, for she is following her moral duty and turning her back onearthly happiness. One of the greatest sources of happiness is not obeying the law nomatter what the law might be, but instead doing what is right. Paul Davis, et al., eds. The decision may cost her her life, but she is determined to doeverything she can to follow and abide by what she sees as a higher moralcalling. The contrast between the two characters is significant because itshows that Antigone has lived and died in honor, fearlessly dedicated tothe highest principles of duty, loyalty and selflessness, while Creon hasacted like a selfish, stubborn, prideful and vengeful child, until it istragically too late. . Antigone shows herself to be fearless in trying to bury her brother.Her sister Ismene reminds her that she will be killed if she tries to burytheir brother, but Antigone simply says "He is my brother" and "Creon isnot strong enough to stand in my way" She argues that if it is a crime shewill commit in trying to bury her brother it is a "holy" crime, and in anycase she is determined to bury him because it is decreed by a law higherthan the decree of Creon---the "laws of the gods." She sees that herefforts may lead to death but it will be a death with "honor" (Sophocles414-415). Antigone is determined to do what is right for herbrother in accordance with the desires of the gods, while Ismene wants tocause no trouble for herself or anyone else, and is willing to obey theorders of Creon even if it means that their brother will lie unburied indisgrace. Herefuses to recognize that his decree to not bury the corpse has mightilyoffended the gods who, like Antigone, operate on a higher standard than thecivic law: The gods favor this corpse? She knows theprice she will likely pay for her decision and the act which implementsthat decision, and she is willing to pay that price. a major test of a morally good act is, therefore, whether its principle can be applied to all rational beings and applied consistently (Stumpf 322). Creon asks her if shehad heard his decree against burying the body, against even covering itwith dust, and she responds that she had heard the decree, but that she"dared defy" it because It was not God's proclamation. Antigone, on the other hand, cares only about doingwhat is right according to the highest standards of humanity and of thegods. How had he served them?/ Tried to loot their temples, burn their images,/ Yes, and the whole State, and the laws with it!" (Sophocles 419). A powerful clue to the essential stands of each character is thatAntigone determinedly maintains her ethical stand to the end, while Creonchanges his mind and buries Polyneices--although he acts too late to avertthe catastrophe prophesied by Teiresias. However, his moral awakening is too late. If respectfor the dead and the calling to a higher moral calling are ignored, thelives of the people in the state will be inevitably diminished. Bentham specifically calls for obedience to the law of man: Bentham argues that the obligation to obey . It is clear from the strange natural occurrences which accompanyAntigone's second attempt to bury the body (at least with a cover of dust)that she is indeed favored by the gods, that she is doing the right thingwhile Creon is doing the wrong thing, from the perspective of both the godsand the higher moral calling to which Antigone is responding. John StuartMill would later refine that utilitarian definition of happiness to includehigher forms of happiness or pleasure, but Antigone's correct moraldecision puts the lie to utilitarianism in even its higher forms. Antigone grants that her brother Polyneices has indeedbroken the law by trying to take over Thebes (the reason that Creon wantsto disallow his burial), but Antigone argues that there is a higher lawthan the legal code, a higher law which is based on the sacred tie of bloodrelations. Works CitedSophocles. She is willing to pay the ultimate price for her decision, for shevalues the honor of obeying a higher moral standard above life itself. . . Haimon says Creonis "talking like a boy now," and Creon barks back, "My voice is the onevoice giving orders in this City!" (Sophocles 43 ). Western Literature in a World Context. She shows herself to beselfless and dedicated to high personal and spiritual principles which arecompletely foreign to Creon. With respect to Ismene, Antigone's bravery only emphasizes thecowardice of her sister. In fact, however, Creon has deeply offended the gods, as well as thepeople of the state. In thatphilosophical and moral scenario, Antigone clearly made the right decision,for if all individuals were to obey the same decree, then the streets wouldbe full of dead people rotting away, and, more importantly, the consciencesof the people would haunt them night and day and the state would inevitablysuffer as a result, being full, as it would be, of miserable people. All of these statements establish that Antigone is basing herdecision (which she has clearly already made though not yet carried out) ona higher moral standard than that established by civic law. Not only does Antigone killherself, so does Creon's own son and his wife. Although Ismene does have a change of heart later in the play, itis Antigone and Antigone alone who makes the moral decision and follows itthrough to the end, through exile and death. Martin's Press, 1995. Antigone. Why? Again, Antigone's decision is moral because everybody in her positionought to do what she did, without regard to the civic law or to thehappiness of herself or others, for to do otherwise would reduce thegoodness in her, in others, and in the state as a whole. Creon is acting not out ofany moral calling, but only from pride and vengeance. In other words, for Bentham, if people broke the law, for whateverreason, chaos would reign, the state would be in tremendous turbulence, andhappiness for any citizen would ultimately be impossible. She knows well whatshe must do for her dead brother, and nothing--not the law, not her ownsister's pleadings, not death itself--will deter her from doing it. Kant's is the most appropriate moral theory to apply to a support ofAntigone's decision, because it emphasizes duty over happiness (whichAntigone certainly emphasized as well in her choice to bury her brother andlose everything that she had in this world as a result, unto death). In addition, Kant's moral imperative, which holds thatan individual should make decisions and act on those decisions with thethought in mind that all other people will make the same decision. . For example, Ismene obeyed the law and refused tohelp Antigone bury her brother, but as a result Ismene is in a state ofgreat suffering despair, and is unable to be happy or find pleasure inlife. That final justice/ That rules the world below makes no such laws. His arrogance is used bySophocles to highlight the humble obedience of Antigone to the higher moralcalling of the gods and her own conscience. . Throughout the play Creon shows an immaturity befitting a sullen,selfish, petty schoolboy, not an honorable king. Creon's hypocrisy is exposed when he claims tobe doing what he is doing for the sake of the State, but mocks Haimon, hisown son, when the young man says that every man in the city disagrees withthe King over his actions toward Polyneices and Antigone. Antigone was correct in the decision that she made to bury herbrother, in defiance of the civic law and decree of the King, because shewas, as she declared, following a moral calling which stands as a higherstandard than does that civic law and decree. She argues that the gods support her in her effort to bury herbrother. However, it is clear fromthe hateful and vengeful nature of his words that he is operating accordingto the standards of his darker emotions rather than the standards of somepolitical ideal: "No man is to touch him or say the least prayer for him;he shall lie on the plain, unburied; and the birds and the scavenging dogscan do with him whatever they like" (Sophocles 417). Clearly, he cares little about the State, andmuch about the public image of his own manhood. . IfAntigone had not buried her brother, the state might have been moreoutwardly peaceful than it became after she made the decision she made, butthere would have been no authentic happiness or pleasure in the state as aresult. The moral philosophies of Bentham and Kant could not be more opposedto one another. . Creon and Antigone could not stand in more stark contrast to oneanother in terms of the qualities important to each. She wants to bury her brother as much as Creon wants to prevent hisburial. Your edict, King, was strong,/ But all your strength is weakness against/ The immortal unrecorded laws of God./ There are not merely now: they were, and shall be,/ Operative for ever, beyond man utterly. Bentham cares about the greatest happiness for the greatest number,and believes that this can be achieved only by obedience to the law, but hefails to realize that obedience to bad law, immoral law, in and of itselfbrings a state of mind and heart which makes happiness impossible. Socrates to Sartre. New York: St. Failing torespect the dead and disobeying a higher moral calling will bring aboutchaos in the consciences of the individuals in the state and in the stateas a whole, and that chaos is more deadly to the peace and happiness ofthose individuals and that state than disobedience to a civic law.Individuals haunted by a bad moral decision will not be capable of anyhappiness whatsoever. I am also considering what all rational beings must do, for if a moral law or rule is valid for me as a rational being, it must be valid for all rational beings. Choragos also, inadvertently, sheds light on the higher standard towhich Antigone adheres when he says of anybody who might try to buryPolyneices that "Only a crazy man is in love with death!" (Sophocles 418).In fact, Antigone is not "in love with death," but simply places her moraland sacred duty to her dead brother above whatever fear of death she mighthave. Creon shows his pettiness once again in response, seeing the conflictin terms of who will be seen as "the man here/ She or I, if this crime goesunpunished?" (Sophocles 424). 413-445.Stumpf, Samuel Enoch. After all, Bentham's utilitarianism is rooted in theargument that a moral decision is one in which the greatest happiness, orpleasure, of the greatest number is advanced, while Kant argues that onlyduty, and not happiness, or pleasure, should be the standard by which amoral decision is made (Stumpf 322). Lifewithout trying to bury her brother would, in fact, be worse than death forher. Antigone, though dead, has followed what she knows tobe a moral path, while Creon, alive, suffers because he for too longfollowed not the moral path but his own pride and desire for revenge. This death of mine/ Is of no importance; but if I had left my brother/ Lying in death unburied, I should have suffered./ Now I do not (Sophocles 423). Creon may have thecivic law on his side, and he may argue from that basis, at least on thesurface, but the play shows that his major concerns are pride and revenge,not following the law. . After an examination of the decision itself, this study will applythe ethical theories of Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham to that decision. . This study will examine the moral decision of Antigone, in Sophocles'play Antigone, to bury her dead brother against the legal decree of Creon,the King of Thebes. . . When he is confrontedwith the fact that if he puts Antigone to death he will be slaying hisson's wife-to-be, Creon coldly and crudely responds, "There are placesenough for him to push his plow" (Sophocles 426). Creon is basing his actions on the pettiest factors---his rage, hispride, his longing for revenge against Polyneices for returning to attackThebes.
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