Acknowledging the suffering and dying : theological anthropology, ordinary language philosophy, and isolation.


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This dissertation explores the nature of human relationships in the context of suffering and dying. It asks how suffering and dying not only threaten but also reveal our isolation—isolation that is prevalent in our everyday relationships. Through the cultural criticism of Susan Sontag, the moral theology of Stanley Hauerwas, and philosophical method and anthropology of Stanley Cavell and Cora Diamond I argue that an important aspect of this isolation is our desire to transcend our limits. We long to secure the lives of others, and we are wounded by our inability to do so. Isolation is an alternative to facing the difficulties of reality, a reality that involves the suffering and death of others. Following the introduction (Chapter One), Chapter Two engages Sontag on the ethics of relating to suffering and death through the distance of photographic images, laying the terms of the problematic. Contrasting Sontag, Cavell reads this distance as indicative of a broader experience of distance (and isolation) from others and the world in western modernity that coincides with the rise of philosophical skepticism. Chapter Three traces Cavell’s method of Ordinary Language philosophy, account of skepticism, and concept of acknowledgment, clarifying the terms of the problematic. The fourth chapter builds a phenomenological anthropology from the work of Diamond and Cavell. I argue that humans are the kind of animal who can hold two worlds within us—a world of transcendent imagination and one of immanent finitude. This offers the hope of acknowledging horrors without denying ourselves from others. The fifth chapter turns to Christian theological implications. Following Hauerwas, this chapter connects the experience of isolation with an experience of the absence of God in western modernity—reading this in light of the hardest cases, namely, the suffering and death of the most vulnerable among us from pediatric cancer. Following Cavell, I argue that the beginning of presence with the suffering and dying is acknowledging our limits—that we cannot bear the weight of God for them—and choosing not to deny ourselves from others. That is, we must allow ourselves to be seen in all our vulnerability.



Moral theology. Ordinary language philosophy. Religion. Christian ethics. Stanley Cavell. Stanley Hauerwas. Susan Sontag. Cora Diamond. Suffering. Death. Pediatric oncology. Isolation. Acknowledgment. Presence.