Club Focus: Grief and Philosophy

University of Edinburgh philosophy professor Michael Cholbi, who has a doctorate in philosophy joined Whatcom Community College’s Philosophy Club to discuss the topic of grief during a public Zoom meeting May 6. 

Photo Credit: https://michael.cholbi.com/

“We should adopt an optimistic stance regarding the value of grief, that on the whole it tends to be good for us,” Cholbi said. “We should be welcoming of grief.”

Cholbi was motivated to publish his latest book, “Grief: A Philosophical Guide,” he said because historically, philosophers have not said much about grief.  He thinks philosophy should help people with common problems, like grief, in everyday life. That it provides in particular a “rich opportunity to gain a kind of self and psychoself knowledge.”

Philosophy Club President Gabriel Price liked Cholbi’s book as a topic for the club because it is easy to jump into and people don’t have to know everything about philosophy before they start reading it.

“We were looking for a good book, and this book in particular was one that’s kind of a new topic,” Price said. 

Cholbi’s approach to understanding grief is to argue for a common thread that links reasons why we would grieve our parents to the same reasons why we would grieve a beloved pop star. He used David Bowie’s death in 2018 as an example to describe “a widespread outpouring of grief” phenomenon.

According to Cholbi we grieve for those we regard as part of ourselves, in terms of what matters to us. He theorizes the different people we invest our sense of self into, besides obvious ones like parents or spouses, matter because they “have been formative in shaping our tastes” and were “present at important moments in our lives.”

Cholbi also discussed how both religious and secular grieving processes would have similar experiences. He said when someone “we’ve invested our practical identities in” dies they are no longer on the same plane of existence, which would be a loss to anyone, no matter their belief.

Grief is inevitable and Cholbi said any separation, even voluntary, within any relationship can lead to grief, death being the most “profoundly disruptive.” To cope with the grieving experience, Cholbi also said philosophy can help guide us to “react and respond to the realities that are presented to us…not totally in our control.”

Price hopes events like this will give people an opportunity to find a love for philosophy by asking questions and discussing things everyone experiences, like grief.

“It’s important to think critically about why we experience things,” Price said.

The Philosophy Club meets weekly on Tuesdays from 5-6 p.m. over Zoom to discuss various topics, books and writings related to philosophy. The topics change bi-weekly touching on themes such as distributive justice and religion.

Contact Philosophy Club President Gabriel Price for more information about the club at gprice2558@student.whatcom.edu.

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