The Duty to GrieveMichael Cholbi (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona)
221 Burwood Hwy
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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