Walter Powell-Linfield University Philosophy Lecture Series


The Functionality of the Aesthetic in the Context of Mourning

Streaming Media

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Video File


55 minutes 23 seconds

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Aesthetics | Philosophy


In the context of mourning, human beings often turn to aesthetic activity (where "aesthetic" is broadly understood as involving a presentational aspect and evaluation on the basis of the manner of presentation). Kathleen Higgins, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, argues that the aesthetic sphere has certain characteristic capabilities that make it especially well suited for helping one deal with some of the challenges occasioned by bereavement. Among these are the achievement of coherence among seemingly incongruent elements, the use of indirect means of communication and deferred routes to gratification, the celebration of the particular as opposed to the generic, the social sharing of what is at the same time experienced as highly personal, the elaboration of narratives that bring features of character to the fore, and the attainment of symbolic satisfaction. Drawing on such capabilities, aesthetic behavior helps mourners to reconstruct a sense of self, overcome the temptation to apathy, assuage survivor guilt, and reorganize one's relationship with the deceased. The power of the aesthetic in this context demonstrates how basic it is to our sense of what it is to be human.


Sponsored by the Walter Powell Endowed Lecture Fund and by PLACE.