The Duty to Grieve
Michael Cholbi (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona)

May 8, 2018, 4:00pm - 5:30pm
PHI research group, Deakin University

C.2.05
221 Burwood Hwy
Burwood 3125
Australia

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Deakin University

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Robert Solomon’s “On grief and gratitude” is perhaps the best known contemporary philosophical article on grief. There Solomon makes the provocative claim that there is a duty to grieve – that those who do not grieve or do not grieve sufficiently are subject to “the most severe moral censure,” that as a “moral emotion,” grief is not only an “appropriate reaction to the loss of a loved one, but also in a strong sense obligatory.” While Solomon offer reasons why grief speaks positively of a person’s relations with others and why grief may contribute to the bereaved’s well-being, he does not offer an explicit argument for the obligatoriness of grief. Here I consider a number of routes by which such a claim might be defended. If there is a duty to grieve, its object must be other living people (those with whom one shares grief at a particular person’s death), the deceased for whom one grieves, or oneself. The first two, I argue, are likely to be candidates for duties of mourning, i.e., duties to engage in public or ritualistic memorialization or acknowledgements of the deceased’s death, etc. Only the last, a duty to grieve owed to oneself, is a credible candidate for a duty to grieve. For insofar as grief is an egocentric activity, it responds to the death of a person with whom one stands in an identity-constituting relationship and hence involves the attempt to re-establish or place on new terms that relationship in light of that individual’s death. The source of a self-concerning duty to grieve is that grief thus represents both an opportunity for, and motivator of, self-knowledge, that is, knowledge of one’s practical identity and values. The duty to grieve, I conclude, is a non-enforceable duty to oneself whose non-fulfillment should elicit agent-centered regret.

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