15 January 2017



Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: mourning.

No doubt this is a subject none of us would like to experience and even less, discuss it. Moreover, we might rightfully think that, at best, mourning is a topic at the peripheral edges of philosophy. Perhaps even more appropriate in psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Our task is not to show people how to mourn or overcome their grief caused by  the loss of someone close, but more to understand the scope of mourning.

Indeed the process of mourning seems to happen in two planes: we have the personal level and the social level. Thus, at a private and personal level we find a way to deal with the grief and the loss of another person. And at the social level we are expected to behave in a manner that is prescribed and recognised as mourning by our social group.

Despite the fact that we should know better we still judge people in society by their behaviour; especially people we are not familiar with. Thus the public act of mourning also affects our personal instinct to mourn. In times gone by, it was customary to mourn by wearing black, even though we might have hated the person that passed on. Thus the public display of mourning might be in conflict with the personal private state of the person. And sometimes, for social reasons, we could not manifest our private mourning in public.

Either the word itself or the experience of mourning refers to the grief, pain or sorrow we feel when someone passes on. But this grief is caused by the loss to us and not necessarily by the absence of the person. We don't really mourn when a friend goes to live in another city, but we do mourn when that friend passes away. So could it be that our grief, and hence our mourning, is not caused by the death of a person but by our loss of that other person: meaning that the grief is cause by the fact that we have lost someone and not by someone dying?

There is a big difference here: if we feel grief and pain because the other person passing away this suggests some form of empathy with that person. However, if we mourn for the loss of the other person then surely it's because we sense a personal event of deprivation something that is no longer ours.

Of course, these two options of interpreting mourning shift the emphasis of mourning from the person who has passed away to the person(s) that are still living. Could it be, therefore, that we mourn not from empathic motivation or causes but rather from selfish instincts of a loss?

Indeed, a loss of someone we relate to means that we have to readjust our character and our mode of life. Hence, a loss of someone is more than just the death of a dear person, but more importantly a loss that has a direct and radical change and impact on our life. After all we are social creatures, and we function best when surrounded by other people especially by people we trust and people we have a connection with.

This might go a long way to explain why we mourn certain people in the public eye; film stars, political leaders, royalty and so forth. These people are not friends or relatives and yet many mourn them as if they were friends or relatives. There life must surely have affected us in a meaningful way which is something not everyone can have on us.

The personal loss approach interpretation to mourning might explain why mourning hasn't evolved out of our mental set up. But just because we mourn, because it is our loss, it does not follow that mourning ought to be optional or that the social act of mourning is unnecessary. On the contrary if we lose someone close or dear to us it follows that others who might equally be close to us will also experience a personal loss in their life. And if we have no empathy with the dead many of us still have empathy with the living. And the first principle of our social survival and personal existence is that we depend on others as much as our own skills to survive and deal with the changes in the world around us.

To sum up, mourning might be interpreted as some sort of empathy with the passing away of someone close or dear to us. But grief is usually associated with loss of what belongs to us and pain is usually associated with personal injury. But someone passing away might explain the grief, but what explains the pain we feel? It seems that maybe mourning might take us a level further: those who are in mourning for the same person means that they all have lost a personal "belonging". This means that there is an imbalance in the status of cooperation in the group; given that stability in a group can only be achieved by cooperation or a state of equilibrium over time. Indeed, the loss of a person in a family can sometimes lead to an acrimonious division in the family. Thus pain can  be both real pain through stress or mental pain through psychological emotions.

Hence, mourning, it seems, is much more about the living than about the dead. The dead live in our private world, but the living live in the real world.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: mourning

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