Loss, Loneliness, and the Question of Subjectivity in Old Age

Emily Hughes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When a loved one dies, it is common for the bereaved to feel profoundly lonely, disconnected from the world with the sense that they no longer belong. In philosophy, this experience of ‘loss and loneliness’ has been interpreted according to both a loss of possibilities and a loss of the past. But it is unclear how these interpretations apply to the distinctive way in which loss and loneliness manifest in old age. Drawing on the phenomenological analyses of old age given by de Beauvoir and Améry, I consider how the diminishment of the capacity for projection and recollection complicate recent interpretations of loss and loneliness, whilst nevertheless reinforcing the conclusion that in old age subjectivity is necessarily impoverished. Developing a critical stance on de Beauvoir and Améry’s underlying conception of subjectivity, I turn to Levinas in considering whether or not there is a way to reimagine subjectivity such that the estrangement and alienation of older adults might be ameliorated rather than exacerbated. Grounded in the passive body-in-itself rather than the self-transcending capacity of the body-for-itself, I suggest it becomes possible to reconceptualise the experience of loss and loneliness in old age; both in terms of what is lost and what needs to be restored if older adults are to be helped to find themselves at home in the world in the midst of, and indeed because of, manifold loss.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) - UKRI: [Grant Number AH/T000066/1].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Bereavement
  • de Beauvoir
  • Levinas
  • Loneliness
  • Old age
  • Subjectivity

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