Few modern-day philosophers focus on the topic of grief, but for Philosophy Professor Michael Cholbi, it’s a subject that is at the center of his research.
“It’s a surprise because you would expect philosophers to be interested in a shared common experience like grief,” Cholbi says. “The ancient Greeks wrote about it often.”
Cholbi recently received a faculty award from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a $38,000 grant he will use to research and write a book titled “A Philosophical Treatment of the Ethics of Grief.” The National Endowment for the Humanities funds just seven percent of faculty award applications.
The grant, along with a planned sabbatical, will enable him to reduce his teaching load until fall quarter of 2017 to write what he believes is the first book-length treatment on the topic of grief.
Over the past year, Cholbi has published a few articles on grief. He hopes to complete his book by the summer of 2017.
The professor, whose research deals with ethics with an emphasis on suicide, grief, punishment and moral psychology, is not new to book publishing. He has edited one book and written three. His book “Suicide: The Philosophical Dimensions” was published in 2011 and named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title.
Cal Poly Pomona was one of the first universities in the country to offer a course on the philosophy of death and dying. The course, which was created almost 20 years ago, is called “Confrontations with the Reaper.”
The idea behind the class is to show that people can’t live well unless they come to terms with the fact that they can’t live forever, Cholbi says.
Philosophy can help shape society’s view on life and death, he adds.
“One of the things philosophy can do for us is to help us rethink common assumptions of how we live, but also that death is an evil, terrible thing,” he says. “It’s an inherent feature of human life, so we need to think about how we deal with that.”
Grief is thinking about that same subject but from a different perspective, he says.
Cholbi says he often uses grief as a way to get students to talk about death and dying because almost everyone has had some experience with it.
“By asking about grief experiences, we can ask ourselves whether death is such a terrible fate to befall us,” he says. “
Most people adapt to life without loved ones in a healthy and stable way, recognizing that it is not a permanent injury, he adds.
“It’s an opportunity for moral growth,” he says of grief. “It underscores the fragility of the human experience. We all kind of know that, but we don’t really know it until we have contact with it firsthand.”