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Philosophy of Grief - PHI00124H

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Matthew Ratcliffe
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

This module investigates a number of philosophical issues and problems that arise in seeking to understand the nature and role of grief. It does so by inviting students to engage with ongoing research conducted by the Philosophy Department at the University of York, as part of the AHRC-funded project “Grief: A Study of Human Emotional Experience”.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

Students will acquire an understanding of (a) the nature and role of grief; (b) philosophical problems that arise in seeking to understand grief; (c) how the study of grief serves to illuminate wider-ranging philosophical issues concerning human experience and thought.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module students should be able to:

  • demonstrate an understanding of the nature and role of grief, by drawing on work in philosophy and in other academic disciplines

  • develop the ability to identify, clearly explain, and critically engage with a range of philosophical issues that relate to grief

  • write an essay that identifies and critically engages with philosophical issues concerning grief, acquiring -in the process- an understanding of broader philosophical issues and the critical skills required to address them

Module content

The module introduces students to a number of interconnected philosophical questions, issues, and problems concerning the nature and role of grief. All of us who care deeply for another person and outlive that person will experience grief. The experience is not only distressing but also bewildering, profoundly affecting all aspects of life in ways that people are often surprised by and struggle to comprehend. Experiences of grief are thus philosophically puzzling in many ways. 

Nevertheless, the topic of grief has been neglected by philosophers. The AHRC-funded project “Grief: A Study of Human Emotional Experience”, based in the Philosophy Department at York, seeks to remedy this neglect. Its overarching aim is to develop a detailed, wide-ranging, and integrated account of what it is to experience grief, focusing on aspects of grief that are of considerable theoretical and practical importance but remain poorly understood. ¿

This associated module provides students with the opportunity to engage with ongoing project research, to work with the project team as they identify and explore a range of philosophical issues, and to participate in the research process through lectures and seminars that relate directly to project activities. Topics include the nature of human emotion, grief and rationality, grief and narrative, the phenomenology of grief, the perception of absence, interpersonal experience in grief, continuing bonds with the dead, and how healthy grief might be distinguished from pathological grief.



Task Length % of module mark
Essay (4000 words)
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

The formative essay plan (One side of A4, plus references (500 words)) is to be submitted in Week 8 of the Spring Term.

The 4,000-word summative essay is to be submitted on Monday, Week 2, Summer Term.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay (4000 words)
N/A 100

Module feedback

Verbal feedback on essay plans will be provided during one-to-one consultations, within two weeks of submission.

Written feedback on summative essays will be provided within four weeks of submission.

Indicative reading

Attig, T. 2011. How We Grieve: Relearning the World. Revised Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brinkmann, S. 2020. Grief: The Price of Love. Trans. T. McTurk. Cambridge: Polity.

Goldie, P. 2011. Grief: A Narrative Account. Ratio XXIV: 119-137.

Higgins, K. 2013. Love and Death. In J. Deigh. ed. On Emotions Philosophical Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 159-178.

Klass, D., P. R. Silverman, and S. L. Nickman. Eds. 1996. Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief. London: Routledge.

Lewis, C.S. 1966. A Grief Observed. London: Faber & Faber.

Marušic, B. 2018. Do Reasons Expire? An Essay on Grief. Philosophers’ Imprint 18/25: 1-21

McCracken, J. 2005. Falsely, Sanely, Shallowly: Reflections on the Special Character of Grief. International Journal of Applied Philosophy 19: 139-156.

Ratcliffe, M. 2017. Grief and the Unity of Emotion. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 41: 154-174.

Ratcliffe, M. 2020. Towards a Phenomenology of Grief: Insights from Merleau-Ponty. European Journal of Philosophy 28: 657-669.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.