Justice in Antigone

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Antiquity and the 19th Century (Ulfers)

William Rauscher

Thursday, 9:30AM

Justice in Antigone

In Sophocles’ Antigone, two notions of ‘justice’ are presented, which conflict with each other. Creon’s form of justice rewards the loyal Eteocles and punishes the traitor Polyneices, by refusing to give Polyneices proper burial rites. This form of justice directly conflicts with Antigone’s idea of justice, which doesn’t differentiate between the “wicked” and the “just.” These two conflicting thoughts on justice illustrate two classic philosophies. Creon represents a Paramenidean view of justice, while Antigone represents a Heraclitean view of justice.

Paramenidean thought splits the world into two systems, where “Being” is primary and “Becoming” is secondary (Ulfers, Lecture). To Paramenides, “Being” is associated with the idea of “oneness” and “timelessness,” while any “Becoming” or process is an illusion produced by the senses. This dualistic worldview simplifies everyday occurrences and thoughts into opposites, which are unchangeable.

In contrast, Heraclitean thought presents “Becoming” as primary, while “Being” is secondary (Ulfers, Lecture). Heraclitus regards change and temporality as ultimate in a perpetual process of “Becoming.” Heraclitus goes on to argue that opposites are simultaneously present in a state known as chiasmic unity. Chiasmic unity constitutes a paradoxical unity of opposites, which binds opposites together and keeps them apart. Heraclitean thought favors the logic of “both/and,” which violates the Paramenidean logic of “either/or.”

Antigone presents a Heraclitean view of justice in a conversation with her sister Ismene abut Creon’s proclamation that their brother, Polyneices, will not receive proper burial rites. Antigone determines that Creon has no authority to dictate burial rites: “It is not for him [Creon] to keep me from my own” (Sophocles, 163). By choosing to defy Creon’s decree, Antigone accepts...
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