Date of Award

Spring 5-23-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




McDaniel, Kris

Second Advisor

Paakkunainen, Hille


composition, grief, identity, metaphysics, practical identity

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Philosophy


The goal of this dissertation is to develop an understanding of grief utterances: expressions of grief that in losing a loved one, the bereaved lost a part of herself. Grief utterances are commonplace, and their accompanying phenomenology suggests they are true. That gives us reason to think they are true. But if they are, what makes them true? I establish two potential answers to this question, ultimately favoring one according to which when a loved one dies we lose parts of our practical identities.

Chapter One introduces and sets up this topic it. It then focuses on the extent to which emotional attachment may account for the truth of grief utterances. Though attachment may explain the phenomenology prompting and accompanying these utterances, it is not sufficient for their truth. Nor are care, attachment and care, and mutual attachment and care. From these observations I introduce the Intimacy Constraint: An account of grief utterances must distinguish between how P1, who is in a mutual intimate relationship with P2, and P3 who is not, loses a part of herself upon the death of P2.

Chapter Two shows how a variety of theories of parthood and persons fail to explain grief utterances' truth. Classical mereology cannot provide an account of grief utterances without forsaking its core axioms. Accounts of grief utterances that appeal to an individual's temporal or modal parts will violate the Intimacy Constraint. An appeal to the extended mind is more fruitful, but makes our loved ones fungible, and fails to capture all paradigmatic cases. The answer to what makes grief utterances true lies beyond these resources.

In Chapter Three I introduce the notion of plural persons to take the place of mutual intimate relationships. On one characterization of plural persons, two individuals form a plural person when, in addition to each individual's personal conception of a life worth living, the two have a joint conception of a life worth their living together. I modify the characterization of a plural person just given to account for the possibility that one can form a plural person with an individual who may not (yet) count as an individual person, due to their cognitive abilities. I then clarify the existence, individuation, and persistence conditions of plural persons, and their relation to other social groups. One implication of the resulting view is that moral personhood is (partly) constituted by convention. I defend this result from several objections.

In Chapter Four I engage with an overlooked version of composition as identity, a view according to which a composite object is identical to each of its parts. This view has promise in accounting for the grief utterances: the bereaved lost a part of herself when her loved one died because some whole, of which her and her beloved were parts, and to which she is identical, lost a part. However, I demonstrate that for this proposal to succeed we must adopt a novel version of Leibniz's Law. I develop the requisite version, drawing out its requirements and restrictions. The result is a new variety of composition as identity on which grief utterances are true. In evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of this view, I construct a list of desiderata for further accounts of grief utterances.

Chapter Five focuses on one's social and practical self. One's social self consists of the network individuals to whom one is psychologically connected. The death of a loved one destroys one node of this network. So, one loses a part of one's social self. I argue that this account is also unsatisfactory. I instead propose that we endorse a broad, practical identity based account of grief utterances. On this proposal, one's practical identity consists of a structure of all of the conceptions of a life worth living that she has access to. These include her individual conception as well as one's joint conceptions. In the death of a loved one, one loses a joint conception of a life worth living that she previously had access to, and as a result, her practical identity loses a defining part. A promising feature of this account is its ability to explain both the loss of a beloved friend or family member, and the loss of a public figure, while accommodating the judgment that these losses are of a different sort.


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