Loneliness as an Experience of Emptiness

  • Xinyi Angela Zhao (Autor/in)

Identifier (Artikel)


Current works on loneliness as a phenomenon mostly explore its social causes and consequences. Scholars are often interested in such things as examining of the kinds of social setting that engender one’s feeling or experience of loneliness, the health and moral hazards that come with such an experience, and the ways in which loneliness could be remedied. The angle at which these works approach loneliness indicates a particular way of framing this experience – that loneliness is an undesirable experience of an individual who is often in a deprived or isolated state in relation to others. Or to put it more explicitly, an individual’s loneliness experience is considered as being caused by a certain undesirable interactive type of social relationship that neglects the significance of the individual as a person. There are two aspects – metaphysical and phenomenological - to be highlighted under this framework. First, the metaphysical aspect points to the explanatory nature of the framework for one’s experience of loneliness. Specifically, scholars attempt to understand loneliness by seeking what (mainly) causes it. Given that what was found as the main cause was the deprivation or the non-existence of social assistance or interpersonal goods, scholars often understand loneliness as such. Second, the phenomenological aspect of the existing framework is that, based on the explanatory aspect, the experience of loneliness is thus often understood or theorized as that of absence given the resultant actual or perceived deprivation or loss of those goods. In the paper, I will focus on the second aspect that loneliness is understood with the concept of absence, and I argue that this concept is phenomenologically inadequate. I propose to replace it with the concept of emptiness, and I argue that loneliness should be understood as the intentional experience of (the presence of) emptiness. The advantage in choosing this term, as I see it, is that it is experientially richer in that it captures the affective and bodily nature of our being in dealing with or making sense of things and the space in which they occupy.