Horban Award 2022
The Department of Philosophy at Simon Fraser University would like to congratulate Saumi Rahnamay, who has been awarded the Peter Horban Philosophy Essay Award for his paper "Love Unto Grief". The annual departmental award is made to recognize excellence in a philosophical essay written by an undergraduate student. Winning essays demonstrate academic and research excellence at the undergraduate level with particular emphasis placed upon originality and promise of ability in research.
First, congratulations on winning the Horban Award! Can you provide a brief overview of the argument at the heart of your paper "Love Unto Grief"?
Thank you! The argument in Love Unto Grief is actually pretty simple, and intuitive in my opinion. The main thesis of the paper is a refined account of grief. I basically argue that what moves us to grieve is losing love. In other words, I claim that grief is a sufficient condition for love, albeit past love. I get there by first adopting an account of grief by a philosopher named Michael Cholbi, but I argue that his account isn’t specific enough about the object or target of grief and show how this can lead to absurd conclusions with a couple counterexamples. I go on to suggest that the object of grief is lost loving relationships, which beside benefitting from feeling natural and intuitive, also avoids the absurd conclusions Cholbi’s account led us to.
However, trying to explain grief by pointing to love is a lot like trying to explain how a car works by opening its hood and pointing to its engine: our explanation itself begs for an explanation; “Okay, but how does an engine work?” So, I end up also giving a philosophical account of love in the latter half of the paper. I fall in line with the account offered by another philosopher named Benjamin Bagley. I’ll spare you the gory epistemic and metaphysical details, but basically, love is a special type of relationship which plays an active role in constituting and determining who we see ourselves as in forming our identity.
My unique contribution to these discussions was to simply join these two areas of inquiry into one continuous process of love unto grief. If love constitutes parts of our identity, we can see why losing someone we love is exceptionally difficult: we lose an inspiration in determining our identity, and at the same time we lose those parts of our identity our love constituted. What’s so particularly sucky about grief is precisely this double whammy. And this doesn’t just apply to the death of loved ones, rather we grieve any cessation of loving relationships; breakup, divorce, lay-off, debilitating illness…
You were also recently admitted to the Honours Program (congratulations again!). What are you hoping to work on in your time with the program?
I have a lot of ideas for possible research topics, too many actually. This summer I’ve been working with professor Begby on the Epistemology of Self-Confidence, which has been a personal topic of interest for some time. Basically, given that we fail frequently, sometimes spectacularly, I’m curious how we nonetheless handle failure in such a way that makes self-confidence permissible, or even possible. I mean, is it justified to believe in yourself if your track record is littered with failure? As most endeavors are in philosophy, it’s a complicated question. Professor Begby has a very keen eye in matters of inquiry like these, so his help has been especially helpful in trying to pin this idea down.
As for what I research next, I can’t say for sure, but it will certainly be something hella interesting.
What first drew you to Philosophy? Was there something in particular that 'clicked' that made you feel like 'this is for me'?
It’s hard to say if there was just one moment that solidified philosophy for me, but if I had to pick one it would be finding out about Descartes in middle school. Particularly, it was the brevity and punch of “I think, therefore I am” that made me lose my proverbial mind as a preteen. I remember explaining Descartes’ Solipsism to anyone who would listen and watch as they failed to find the same amazement that I found in it.
I wasn’t reading philosophy at this point in my life, but I was consuming a lot of philosophy podcasts and YouTube videos. It’s kind of strange to say but bite-sized, introductory video essays were what catapulted me into philosophy. I tend to learn more by reading nowadays, but I still avidly consume the same type of content. Contrapoints, Gregory B. Sadler, Philosophize This!, Crash Course Philosophy, “Elucidations” from the University of Chicago… Hell, philosophy Tik-Tok is even a thing. I think philosophy really lends itself well to the “edutainment” genre, and I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest anyone who’s interested in philosophy to start by exploring online. Just do your due diligence, and make sure the content you’re consuming is accurate to literature, and not intentionally misrepresentative.
What's something about studying Philosophy that you think would surprise someone who is unfamiliar with it?
That’s a really interesting question. I can imagine people majoring in other disciplines to be very surprised by how lively philosophy lectures are. From what I’ve experienced here at SFU, philosophy lectures are the chattiest out of any discipline, in a good way! People are always so enthusiastic to come to lecture and discuss the assigned readings, whether they read them or not. I’m honestly sad to be finished the majority of my Phil credits, because I miss that feeling of being around by people who want to get to the bottom of things. There’s something intoxicating about that environment. It helps that SFU has a really good philosophy department, with a wide range of offered courses.
Bonus Question: Would you rather argue with 100 rat-sized Platos, or explain The Republic to one Plato-sized rat?
Talk about spoiled for choice! Either way, I don’t think my interlocutor would be capable of understanding me, on account of Plato not knowing English, and on account of a Plato-sized rat also not knowing English. 100 Plato’s of any size in one location is honestly just asking for trouble, but at least it’s not 100 Socrateses (Socrati*?). I think I’ll go with the Plato-sized rat because I don’t think he’ll clue into the fact that I haven’t read The Republic (yunno, on account of being a rat and all), so I could probably get away with paraphrasing some lines I remember from The Symposium.