A Philosophy of Loneliness
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A Philosophy of Loneliness

Lars Svendsen, Kerri Pierce

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eBook - ePub

A Philosophy of Loneliness

Lars Svendsen, Kerri Pierce

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For many of us it is the ultimate fear: to die alone. Loneliness is a difficult subject to address because it has such negative connotations in our intensely social world. But the truth is that wherever there are people, there is loneliness. You can be lonely sitting in the quiet of your home, in the still of an afternoon park, or even when surrounded by throngs of people on a busy street. One need only turn on the radio to hear a crooner telling us just how lonesome we can be. In this groundbreaking book, philosopher Lars Svendsen confronts loneliness head on, investigating both the negative and positive sides of this most human of emotions.Drawing on the latest research in philosophy, psychology, and the social sciences, A Philosophy of Loneliness explores the different kinds of loneliness and examines the psychological and social characteristics that dispose people to them. Svendsen looks at the importance of friendship and love, and he examines how loneliness can impact our quality of life and affect our physical and mental health. In a provocative move, he also argues that the main problem in our modern society is not that we have too much loneliness but rather too little solitude, and he looks to those moments when our loneliness can actually tell us profound things about ourselves and our place in the world. The result is a fascinating book about a complex and deeply meaningful part of our very being.

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1 Stendhal, On Love, p. 267.
2 C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 12.
3 Simmel, ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’, p. 108. See also Simmel, Sociology: Inquiries into the Construction of Social Forms, p. 95.
4 Simmel, The Philosophy of Money, p. 298.
5 Tocqueville, Democracy in America, pp. 665, 701.
6 Tocqueville, Selected Letters on Politics and Society, p. 326. On solitude in the wilderness, see further Tocqueville, ‘Journey to Lake Oneida’ and ‘A Fortnight in the Wilderness’, p. 665.
7 Cf. Marquard, ‘Plädoyer für die Einsamkeitsfähigkeit’, p. 113; Moody, ‘Internet Use and its Relationship to Loneliness’; Monbiot, ‘The Age of Loneliness is Killing Us’.
8 Chen and French, ‘Children’s Social Competence in Cultural Contexts’.
9 Cf. Svendsen, Philosophy of Boredom, p. 28.
10 Larson, ‘The Solitary Side of Life: An Examination of the Time People Spend Alone from Childhood to Old Age’.
11 Cioran, Drawn and Quartered, p. 159.
12 Sartre, Nausea, p. 116.
13 Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, p. 23.
14 Genesis 2:18.
15 Psalms 142:4.
16 Ecclesiastes 4:9–12.
17 Kant, Idea of a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose, p. 44.
18 Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto III, v. 90, p. 131.
19 Milton, Paradise Lose, Book IX, 249, p. 192.
20 Bierce, The Enlarged Devil’s Dictionary, p. 44.
21 Butler, ‘A Melancholy Man’, p. 59.
22 MacDonald and Leary, ‘Why Does Social Exclusion Hurt? The Relationship Between Social and Physical Pain’; Eisenberger, Lieberman and Williams, ‘Does Rejection Hurt? An fMRI Study of Social Exclusion’.
23 A good, precise overview of the genetic and neuroscientific aspects of loneliness can be found in Hawkley and Cacioppo, ‘Perceived Social Isolation: Social Threat Vigilance and its Implication for Health’. There is an extensive psychoanalytic literature on loneliness that I will take up only in limited capacity. For an overview and discussion of many of the most central contributions, see Quindoz, The Taming of Solitude: Separation Anxiety in Psychoanalysis.
ONE The Essence of Loneliness
1 For example, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health gives this definition of loneliness: ‘Good social support means that one receives love and care, is respected and valued, and that one belongs to a social network and a community with mutual responsibilities. The opposite of good social support is loneliness.’ Folkehelseinstituttet, ‘Sosial støtte og ensomhet – faktaark’.
2 Cf. Scarry, The Body in Pain.
3 Eliot, The Cocktail Party, p. 414.
4 An extreme expression of such metaphysical loneliness is Ben Lazare Mijuskovic’s Loneliness in Philosophy, Psychology and Literature (1979), which reduces the entirety of human existence to a state of loneliness, and where those who might claim that loneliness is not so defining of his or her life cannot be described in any other way than individuals living in denial of their basic existential condition. Interpersonal communication is dismissed as a momentary, albeit comforting, illusion (Mijuskovic, Loneliness in Philosophy, Psychology and Literature, p. 82). Mijuskovic claims that loneliness is the most fundamental fact of human life, that loneliness is the basic structure of self-consciousness, and that when one attempts to see through themselves completely, they find an emptiness or desolation, in short: loneliness (ibid., pp. 13, 20). However, one can question whether this type of Cartesian introspection, where the self is made utterly transparent to itself, is even possible. Many philosophers, not least Kant, have provided arguments for why this is more than doubtful. One can further question why such introspection should yield a more basic truth than that revealed by extrospection. However that may be, the most important thing to keep in mind is that reflections such as Mijuskovic’s are so reductive and general that they overlook all multiplicity in the phenomenon they have set out to examine. It is tempting to turn to a Shakespearean citation that Wittgenstein considered using as a motto for Philosophical Investigations, ‘I’ll teach you differences!’ (Shakespeare, King Lear, Act I, Scene 4.) As Wittgenstein underscored in his remarks to Frazer’s The Golden Bough: ‘Nothing is ...

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Citation styles for A Philosophy of Loneliness
APA 6 Citation
Svendsen, L. (2017). A Philosophy of Loneliness ([edition unavailable]). Reaktion Books. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/777038/a-philosophy-of-loneliness-pdf (Original work published 2017)
Chicago Citation
Svendsen, Lars. (2017) 2017. A Philosophy of Loneliness. [Edition unavailable]. Reaktion Books. https://www.perlego.com/book/777038/a-philosophy-of-loneliness-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Svendsen, L. (2017) A Philosophy of Loneliness. [edition unavailable]. Reaktion Books. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/777038/a-philosophy-of-loneliness-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Svendsen, Lars. A Philosophy of Loneliness. [edition unavailable]. Reaktion Books, 2017. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.