Does any man's death really diminish us as individuals?

This. The OP has stuck the words “as individuals” into his question, even though those words are not in the quoted text from Donne and, indeed, the whole point that Donne is making is that we are not just individuals; we are all “involved in mankind”, and the collective dimension of the human experience is just as central as the individual dimension.

A couple of people have posted to say that they could, hypothetically, rejoice at certain deaths. Perhaps so, but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be diminished by them, in Donne’s sense. Donne doesn’t say that every death makes, or should make, you unhappy; just that it diminishes you.

That kind of diminishment doesn’t sound so bad, really.

Yeah, sounds like the same sense the having a tumor removed diminishes you.

Can I second that someone who believes this statement actually define the word “diminish” for us? Because from everything I see here, it means everything and nothing simultaneously.

I think you’re asking two separate questions.

So here, I think you are asking whether a “deserved” death necessarily diminishes humankind. I don’t know. I don’t think that was the question Donne was intending to address. Did you ever read the Flannery O’Connor short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”?

His colleague, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said of him,

That seems to be a very modern and concrete example of how she, personally, is diminished by his loss. I certainly lean closer to RBG than Justice Scalia when it comes to politics. Still, I can see that as a country we are lesser for having lost him.


Diminished = feels or at least perceives a loss, at least partly. Other emotions may occur as well.

By that definition, I’m sure a lot of people will be un- or even anti-diminished by the deaths of some others.

I take your point. But Donne wouldn’t necessary share the assumption that the only meaningful form of human improvement is happiness, or the only meaningful form of human diminution is unhappiness.

In fact, the pursuit of happiness (in the sense of emotional contentment or gratification) can itself diminish you; you can make choices which gratify you but which also diminish you, at least in the sense of failing to take on a challenge, or failing to take advantage of an opportunity for growth or improvement, or to realise your potential in some other way. Hence, diminution does not equal unhappiness, and vice versa.

It’s different, of course, when someone dies; that isn’t (usually!) the result of a choice on your part, so the diminution that Donne talks of can’t be a failure on your part. But it remains that the mere fact that the death makes you happy doesn’t tell you very much, one way or the other, about whether it diminishes you, and that will always be the case unless you consider it axiomatic that increased happiness is the only form of growth, and reduced happiness the only form of diminution. Which is not, obviously, Donne’s position.

Sure. You can even feel both diminished and empowered at the same time. No contradiction there, necessarily.

Actually, I think this is exactly what Donne means. St. Augustine talked about the members of Christiandom making up a “body.” (Bear with me-- I read this back in college in the 90s, and may get it slightly wrong.) Even the removal of a gangrenous limb, while necessary to the survival of the whole, is still an assault on the whole.

You have to remember that Donne is not addressing everyone: he is not addressing Buddhists, Baha’i’s, Muslims, or Jews, he is addressing Christians, and specifically criticizing those among them who think that some funerals are more worthy of their time than others.

Nitpick: St Paul. Specifically, the “body of Christ”. He develops this theme at some length.

This. The quote comes from Meditation XVII of the Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. Meditation XVII starts off by pointing to baptism, and reminding the reader how, when the church “baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member”. The funeral, then, is simply the flip-side of this Christian truth.

Which is why to ask if the death of another diminishes us as individuals is to completely miss Donne’s point. It diminishes the Body of Christ; if you want to update that and rethink it in secular terms it diminishes the community (and, therefore, all of us). But if you don’t think the community is important; if you think we only have value as individuals, or that our value as individuals is in no way connected with the health of the community then, yeah, what Donne says will make no sense.

Can you feel both diminished and anti-undiminished at the same time such that they cancel each other out and you are exactly the same as you were before?

As I read these posts, I recall when Ronald Reagan was shot. I was in middle school where 95% of the students were children of color who thought they were oppressed by the man. The Principle announced the news over the intercom, and my classmates jumped up and began a robust celebration of cheers and dancing. After our teacher settled the class down, you could hear the roar of the celebrations coming from the other classrooms. It’s too bad Scalia died on the weekend. Think of the joy that never materialized because the moment has already passed.

If diminished is being used in the same sense that you’re diminished when you have a tumor removed, that is inconsistent with how everyone else uses it.

Nobody would say “I know you might be happy that the surgery was successful, but keep in mind that we’re all diminished by the loss of cancer so be respectful.” However, that’s exactly the sort of thing that is said after a death.

Perhaps that was the intention behind that original saying, but it no longer means that.

Can you feel both angry and sad so that they cancel each other out and you are exactly the same way as you were before?

No. Emotions don’t work like that. They are qualitative, not quantitative. So they do not add. Or subtract.

You can make decisions based upon how you weigh various feelings. But there’s no decision to be considered in this case.

Conflicting emotions are a thing, you know. It’s called ambivalence, and it is a sign of mental illness.

Anger and sadness would not cancel each other anyway. They both have a negative valence. But an equal measure of sadness would certainly cancel out a equal measure of happiness . I think the resulting state would be more confused than neutral, though.

Then how do I manage to feel undiminished by the 150,000 people who die every day? I mean, I even had to look up the number; if each of their individual deaths diminished me somehow, wouldn’t I feel each of those deaths?

That’s not possible.

That is not an accurate reading of the situation in this universe.

Positive population growth offsets it. :smiley: