Michael Rosen’s Sad Book
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Michael Rosen’s Sad Book discusses various philosophical issues in the philosophy of mind, particularly those concerning the experience of sadness.
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book is a story about a father losing his son, and experiencing the sadness and tragedy of it. Throughout the book, the father describes how his sadness affects him and how he tries to cope with it.
Read aloud video by Zheala Qayyum
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book discusses various philosophical issues in the philosophy of mind. For example, when the main character describes himself as being sad but looks happy in the photograph, it raises the philosophical issue of what the experience of sadness is like. Some people know what sadness is, but do not know how to explain the experience of it. Indeed, it may not be possible to provide an explanation.
Philosophy of Mind is the branch of philosophy that studies general questions about the mind. Philosophers in this field tend to focus their questions on the relationship between the mind and the body. They want to figure out what exactly mental states are, and whether or not mental states are part of the brain or part of something outside the physical body.
The first question set deals with the experience of sadness. When the main character describes himself as being sad but looks happy, we question the relationship between feeling an emotion and behaving in ways that typically accompany that emotion.
This raises a question in the philosophy of mind relating to consciousness: Do we truly know what is it like to be sad, or is it an experience that we cannot describe? One important philosophical view holds that the feeling component of an emotion like sadness cannot be captured in language. My experience of looking at the sunset is going to be different from yours. Some philosophers think that this experience is not unique, but simply part of a brain state, that can be understood through modern psychology.
The second question set deals with how sadness relates to our behavior. In the story, the main character does all sorts of bad things, like bang a spoon on the table or shouting in the shower. This raises another set of questions in philosophy of mind that have to do with the relationship between behavior and emotions. Most philosophers agree that mental states involve a tendency for us to act a certain way. What is the relationship between those behaviors and the feelings we generally associate with an emotion like sadness? Could you be sad and never have a tendency to cry? Some people believe that boys and men should not cry–is this true?
The third question set deals with the question “what are emotions”? In the story, we know that the character experiences many emotions. There are various philosophical views in the philosophy of mind on emotion; one particular view is that emotions are nothing more than changes in our bodies or environment. For example, a person who just won the lottery would be happy. Others stress the conscious nature of emotions and the possibility of feeling an emotion but not acting on it.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
The Experience of Sadness
Then I look like this. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
- Can you think of a moment in your life when you were sad?
- How do you know you were sad?
- Could you have been feeling something else, such as anger?
- Do we have to know that we are sad, to be sad?
- What is it like to be sad?
Sadness and Our Behavior
Sometimes because I’m sad I do crazy things — like shouting in the shower… banging a spoon on the table… or making my cheeks go whooph, booph, whooph.
- Have you ever been sad and acted as if you were happy?
- Why does sadness sometimes make us act in a different way?
- What do you look like when you are sad?
- How do you feel when you are sad?
The Nature of Emotion
Sometimes I’m sad and I don’t know why. It’s just a cloud that comes along and covers me up. It’s not because Eddie’s gone. It’s not because my mom’s gone. It’s just because.
- What emotions does the main character go through during the story?
- Do you think the main character had to go through those emotions?
- What is the role of emotions in our lives?
- What are emotions?
Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Mateusz Marcinowski. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.
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