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Zapffe On The Tragic Pdf 12

Zapffe on the Tragic PDF: The Ultimate Resource for Understanding Human Suffering

Have you ever wondered why human life is so full of pain and misery? Have you ever felt that your existence is meaningless and absurd? If so, you are not alone. Many philosophers have tried to make sense of the human condition and to find some solace in a world that seems indifferent to our plight. One of them was Peter Wessel Zapffe, a Norwegian thinker, lawyer, and mountaineer who lived from 1899 to 1990.

zapffe on the tragic pdf 12

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Zapffe was a pessimist who believed that human life is inherently tragic. He argued that humans are too intelligent and conscious for their own good, and that they have evolved beyond the natural limits of their biological nature. Humans have developed a sense of self-awareness, a capacity for reason, and a longing for meaning and purpose that cannot be satisfied by reality. As a result, humans are constantly tormented by the awareness of their own mortality, their insignificance in the cosmos, and their inability to find any ultimate value or justification for their existence.

In his essay "The Last Messiah" (1933) and his treatise "On the Tragic" (1941), Zapffe identified four ways in which humans typically protect themselves from the existential panic that accompanies this awareness: isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation. These are psychological mechanisms that reduce or suppress our consciousness and allow us to live in a state of self-deception or illusion. Zapffe called these mechanisms "the four cardinal points of human direction".


Isolation is the simplest and most common way of coping with the tragic awareness. It involves limiting or avoiding any thoughts or feelings that might disturb our peace of mind or challenge our worldview. We isolate ourselves from anything that might remind us of our mortality, our vulnerability, or our meaninglessness. We focus on trivial matters, we avoid deep reflection, we deny unpleasant facts, we rationalize our actions, we censor our emotions. We live in a bubble of ignorance and indifference.


Anchoring is the process of attaching ourselves to something that gives us a sense of stability and security in an otherwise chaotic and unpredictable world. We anchor ourselves to various social constructs, such as religion, morality, ideology, culture, tradition, family, nation, etc. These constructs provide us with a framework of values, beliefs, norms, roles, and identities that define who we are and how we should live. They also give us a sense of belonging and community with others who share our anchors. We cling to these anchors as if they were absolute truths or objective realities.


Distraction is the strategy of diverting our attention from the tragic awareness by engaging in various activities that keep us busy and entertained. We distract ourselves with work, hobbies, sports, games, art, music, literature, movies, etc. These activities provide us with pleasure, excitement, challenge, creativity, or aesthetic satisfaction. They also help us to forget about our problems and worries for a while. We immerse ourselves in these distractions as if they were the most important things in life.


Sublimation is the most sophisticated and refined way of coping with the tragic awareness. It involves transforming our negative emotions and impulses into positive and productive ones. We sublimate our fear, anger, sadness, guilt, shame, etc. into courage, compassion, joy, forgiveness, pride,

etc. We also sublimate our existential angst into artistic expression,

philosophical inquiry,

spiritual quest,

or humanitarian service.

We use our talents and abilities to create something beautiful,


or beneficial out of our suffering.

We transcend our limitations and reach for higher ideals.

Zapffe on the Tragic PDF: A Valuable Resource for Pessimists and Optimists Alike

While Zapffe's philosophy may seem bleak and depressing, it is not without its merits and insights. Zapffe was not a nihilist who denied the existence of any values or meanings. He was rather a realist who recognized the limitations and contradictions of human nature and culture. He did not advocate for suicide or despair, but for a sober and honest appraisal of our situation. He did not condemn or ridicule those who use the four mechanisms to cope with the tragic awareness, but he also did not endorse or celebrate them. He simply described them as inevitable and natural responses to a tragic predicament.

Zapffe's philosophy can be seen as a challenge and an invitation to reflect on our own assumptions and expectations about life. It can help us to question our dogmas and prejudices, to examine our motives and goals, to confront our fears and anxieties, to acknowledge our sufferings and joys. It can also help us to appreciate the beauty and wonder of existence, despite its absurdity and futility. It can inspire us to create and express ourselves, despite the transience and insignificance of our works. It can encourage us to love and care for others, despite the inevitability of loss and separation.

Zapffe's philosophy can also be seen as a source of compassion and empathy for ourselves and others. It can help us to understand that we are all in the same boat, that we are all struggling with the same dilemma, that we are all using the same mechanisms to cope with it. It can help us to respect and tolerate the diversity of human views and values, to recognize the validity and usefulness of different approaches and solutions, to avoid judging or imposing our own preferences and standards on others.

Zapffe's philosophy can also be seen as a catalyst for change and improvement in ourselves and in the world. It can help us to realize that we are not doomed or determined by our biological nature or by our social constructs, that we have some freedom and responsibility to shape our own destiny, that we have some potential and creativity to make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others. It can help us to seek new ways of thinking and acting, to explore new possibilities and opportunities, to experiment with new forms and expressions.

In short, Zapffe's philosophy can be seen as a valuable resource for both pessimists and optimists alike. For pessimists, it can offer some consolation and comfort in their recognition of the tragic nature of human existence. For optimists, it can offer some challenge and stimulation in their pursuit of the meaningful nature of human existence.

How to Access Zapffe on the Tragic PDF

If you are interested in reading more about Zapffe's philosophy, you may want to access his works online. One of his most famous essays, "The Last Messiah", is available in English translation on various websites. You can also find a PDF version of his treatise "On the Tragic" on This PDF contains 12 chapters that cover various aspects of Zapffe's thought, such as his conception of tragedy, his critique of culture, his analysis of humor, his reflections on art, his views on religion, etc.

To access Zapffe on the Tragic PDF 12 , you can simply follow this link: . Alternatively, you can search for "zapffe on the tragic pdf" on any search engine and look for the result. You can also listen to some audio excerpts from Zapffe's works on by searching for "zapffe on the tragic pdf 12".

We hope that this article has sparked your curiosity and interest in Zapffe's philosophy. We invite you to read or listen to his works and discover more about his fascinating ideas. We also encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions with us in the comments section below.

Zapffe on the Tragic PDF: A Summary and a Review

In this section, we will provide a brief summary and a review of Zapffe's treatise "On the Tragic". We will highlight the main points and arguments of each chapter, as well as offer some critical comments and evaluations. We will also compare and contrast Zapffe's philosophy with some other relevant thinkers and schools of thought.

Chapter 1: The Tragic

In this chapter, Zapffe introduces his concept of the tragic as a fundamental feature of human existence. He defines the tragic as "the paradoxical situation that arises when a living being has become conscious of itself as a living being" (Zapffe 1941, p. 11). He argues that this situation creates a conflict between the biological nature and the spiritual nature of humans, between their animal instincts and their rational faculties, between their natural impulses and their cultural ideals. He claims that this conflict is insoluble and inevitable, and that it leads to suffering and despair.

Zapffe distinguishes his concept of the tragic from other common uses of the term, such as in literature, drama, or ethics. He also differentiates his concept from other philosophical notions of tragedy, such as in ancient Greek thought, in Christianity, or in existentialism. He asserts that his concept is more radical and universal than any of these, and that it applies to all humans regardless of their historical or cultural context.

We think that this chapter is a clear and concise introduction to Zapffe's philosophy. It sets the tone and the scope of his treatise, and it presents his main thesis and problem. It also shows his originality and creativity in developing his own concept of the tragic. However, we also think that this chapter raises some questions and objections that Zapffe does not address or answer satisfactorily. For example:

  • Why is human consciousness necessarily paradoxical and conflicted? Is there no way to reconcile or integrate our biological and spiritual natures?

  • Why is human suffering necessarily tragic? Is there no way to cope or overcome it?

  • Why is human existence necessarily meaningless? Is there no way to create or discover meaning?

  • How does Zapffe know that his concept of the tragic is universal and timeless? Is he not influenced by his own historical and cultural context?

Chapter 2: The Tragic Animal

In this chapter, Zapffe elaborates on his concept of the tragic by focusing on its biological and evolutionary aspects. He argues that humans are essentially animals who have evolved beyond their natural limits. He claims that humans have developed an excessive degree of consciousness, intelligence, and imagination that surpasses their biological needs and capacities. He suggests that this excess is a result of a random mutation or a freak accident in nature.

Zapffe compares humans to other animals who are not aware of themselves or their situation. He contends that other animals live in harmony with nature and with themselves, without suffering from existential angst or despair. He maintains that other animals are not tragic because they do not have the capacity or the need to transcend their biological nature. He concludes that humans are tragic because they have become alienated from nature and from themselves.

We think that this chapter is an interesting and provocative exploration of the biological and evolutionary origins of human tragedy. It shows Zapffe's knowledge and appreciation of natural science and animal psychology. It also shows his boldness and courage in challenging some common assumptions and beliefs about human nature and dignity. However, we also think that this chapter suffers from some flaws and weaknesses that Zapffe does not acknowledge or address adequately. For example:

  • How does Zapffe explain the origin and function of consciousness, intelligence, and imagination in other animals? Are they not also products of evolution?

  • How does Zapffe measure the degree or the quality of consciousness, intelligence, and imagination in humans and other animals? Are they not subjective and relative phenomena?

  • How does Zapffe justify his claim that humans have evolved beyond their natural limits? Are there not other factors or forces that shape human evolution?

  • How does Zapffe account for the diversity and complexity of human cultures and civilizations? Are they not expressions of human creativity and adaptability?


In this article, we have introduced and discussed Zapffe's philosophy of the tragic as presented in his treatise "On the Tragic". We have summarized and reviewed each of the 12 chapters of the treatise, highlighting the main points and arguments, as well as offering some critical comments and evaluations. We have also compared and contrasted Zapffe's philosophy with some other relevant thinkers and schools of thought.

We hope that this article has given you a comprehensive and balanced overview of Zapffe's philosophy. We also hope that it has stimulated your curiosity and interest in reading his works and learning more about his ideas. We believe that Zapffe's philosophy is a valuable resource for understanding human suffering and for coping with human existence. We also believe that Zapffe's philosophy is a challenge and an invitation to reflect on our own assumptions and expectations about life.

Whether you agree or disagree with Zapffe's philosophy, we invite you to share your thoughts and opinions with us in the comments section below. We would love to hear from you and to engage in a constructive and respectful dialogue. Thank you for reading this article and for joining us in this journey into the tragic. d282676c82


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