Moral and Epistemic Ambiguity in Oedipus Rex

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


This paper challenges the accepted interpretation of Oedipus Rex, which takes Oedipus’ ignorance
of the relevant facts to be an established matter. I argue that Oedipus’ epistemic state is ambiguous,
and that this in turn generates a moral ambiguity with respect to his actions. Because ignorance
serves as a moral excuse, my demonstration that Oedipus was not ignorant bears significantly on
the moral meaning of the play. I next propose to anchor this ambiguity in the Freudian notion of
the unconscious, by presenting an interpretation that treats Oedipus’ knowledge as unconscious. I
discuss the moral status of an agent acting from unconscious knowledge and find it to be genuinely
indeterminate, thus supporting my claim that the play is epistemically and morally ambiguous.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-109
Number of pages18
JournalJanus Head
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Humanities Health and Science


  • Oedpius Rex, culpable ignorance, unconcsious


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