Thursday, September 6, 2012

Learning as a process of grieving

So I've been investigating philosophical discussions of grief, in preparation for teaching a course on death and dying this fall. And I came across this little tidbit from the Wikipedia entry on the Kubler-Ross model of grief:
Studies of epistemology, the process of learning, suggest that the patterns of grief are one way of describing the basic patterns of integrating new information that conflicts with previous beliefs. 
"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." said Arthur Schopenhauer of the learning process, which corresponds to the five stages of grief with denial being ridicule, opposition being anger and bargaining, and acceptance being depression and acceptance.

Wow. Could it be that one reason teaching is such an incredibly difficult profession is that, in inviting students to learn, we are inviting them into a process that, if successful, will catalyze grief? And perhaps students know this, and so they resist the seemingly violent intrusion upon their psychological security that true education involves?


  1. I'm dubious about the Kubler-Ross five stages--a few comments at

    But your more general point resonates well with my own--now rather dated--research on "Learning as Loss"

    Hope you find it interesting!

  2. > "To be a student required a peculiar kind of capitulation, a willingness not simply to do as one is told, but to surrender the movements of one's soul to the unknown complexities of another's. A willingness, not simply to be moved, but to be remade."

    --R. Scott Bakker, _The Judging Eye_

    > "The person who takes the banal and ordinary and illuminates it in a new way can terrify. We do not want our ideas changed. We feel threatened by such demands. 'I already know the important things!' we say. Then Changer comes and throws our old ideas away."

    --Frank Herbert, _Chapterhouse Dune_

  3. This may be a sidetrack but John Stuart Mill is often credited for having said or written: "Every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion, adoption." (I don't have a text location for the Mill quote.) The similarity between that and the Schopenhauer is likely not a coincidence. Does anyone here know the connection between these quotes?


If you wish to use your name and don't have a blogger profile, please mark Name/URL in the list below. You can of course opt for Anonymous, but please keep in mind that multiple anonymous comments on a post are difficult to follow. Thanks!