Does anyone (ideally philosophy, not self help) talk about loneliness not as a failure of love for or by others, even yourself, nor as a virtue - but as something which can be won nevertheless - but as a condition which is intrinsically valuable and potentially (if not cultivated) refined?

Not to get too self help, but I am alone is a few ways, and feel that without a lot of bullshit I am no worse off. Is that insane? Any links to anxiety? Dunno why I suggest that.

  • 2
    There's some saying "carnival is the loneliness of the many, and loneliness is the carnival of the one". Philosophically the negative loneliness feeling results from distorted thinking mixing with hidden fears. It has been discussed in many ancient books and to overcome it you may recite the short Heart Sutra: Because nothing is attained, the Bodhisattva, through reliance on prajna paramita, is unimpeded in his mind. Because there is no impediment, he is not afraid, and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind. Ultimately Nirvana!... Dec 21, 2021 at 21:59
  • It may be helpful to define terms. Loneliness seems to me to be understood as an involuntary condition of negative circumstance or affect, due to perceived, if not also actual, isolation from others. An affirming experience may not be one of loneliness. From a social standpoint, it strikes me as unjust that many endure in loneliness, and even more so that many are conditioned to view the condition as following from personal failure.
    – brainchild
    Jun 21, 2022 at 10:42

7 Answers 7


Grothendieck, a famous mathematician, said that his ability to be on his own was one of the sources of his creativity.

Personally, I don't think loneliness is a good description of this mood, after all, Grothendieck could find company if he so desired. Loneliness, describes a condition where one craves contact: either social, moral or intellectual.

Loneliness is a modern plague. A few years ago, the former prime-minister of the UK, Teresa May launched an intitiative to tackle this and even appointed a 'loneliness tsar'.

Marx would not have been surprised. He said that one of the effects of modern industrial culture was alienation: from man to himself, from man to other men and from man to society, culture and craft. Hannah Arendt also talked about this in how the public sphere is reduced to the mass sphere, in todays language, we would say consumer society, consuming things and entertainment.

This alienation from the workd was magnificently prophesised in EM Forsters short story, The Machine Stops, written in 1907. There we read about a woman called Vashti who has seven thousand friends but who has never met any of them and spends her time lecturing in ten minute bursts on third or fifth hand information far removed from any direct experience. It could work as a parody of our times, except it was written over a century ago.

Although it's been pointed certain relifoud traditions emphasise solitude, this should be understood as a withdrawel from the worldly world, rather than loneliness per se. Some sufi's withdraw in order to discover the divine reality which is inside of them, for example:

And indeed we have created Man, and We know whatever thoughts his inner self develops, and we are closer to him than his jugular vein (Q. 50:16)

Thus being close to Allah/God means that they are not alone.

  • Do you mean to say that loneliness and solitude are subtly different and, despite being considered to be synonymous, are not interchangeable in few situations? BTW, thanks for mentioning, "The Machine Stops"; a new entry in my reading list. Dec 21, 2021 at 7:33

Joseph Weissman's answer is lovely but diffident -- our prophetic texts are embarrassing ... Why embarrassing??

Towards a more forthright outlook: here's three quotes, two from well-known sources and one from a personal contact.

I expect these sources to be too fringe for this site and will in due course be deleted. Hope it can at least stay for Christmas!!

From a Course in Miracles

This is a course in miracles. It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary

This course can be summed up very simply: Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.

The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.

There is a place in you where there is perfect peace

Miracles as such do not matter. The only thing that matters is their Source, Which is far beyond evaluation.

Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love. The real miracle is the love that inspires them. In this sense everything that comes from love is a miracle.

Ramana Maharshi

In composing songs of devotion described the ultimate love not as selfless but as otherless. Also called non-duality

He who dedicates his mind to Thee, and seeing Thee, always beholds the universe as Thy figure, he who at all times glorifies Thee and loves Thee otherlessly, he is the master without rival, being one with Thee, O Arunachala-Shiva! And lost in Thy bliss.

How can anything but solitude be the condition of this state?

And to return to the figure of Christmas celebration...

A certain healer

who I talked with said to me:

When Jesus was asked to distill out the large no of Mosaic laws into a few he gave these two

  • Love God
  • Love your neighbor

These are the obvious exoteric ones. When you add "with all your heart" "as yourself" to these two you see that theres a third hidden esoteric one linking the first two; viz

  • the two are one. ie loving God and loving neighbour are the same practice ie "love God" = "love neighbor"

In that state -- obviously non-dual -- how can love and solitude be different?

  • The most ancient wisdom traditions are not ‘embarrassing’; I meant to suggest only they might be considered so in terms of their continued relevance for us who have stubbornly refused to listen; they are certainly ‘embarrassments’ to certain moderns who would reduce them also but I meant to praise them here in fact as a key source for understanding what the practice of love could mean. Beautiful answer here btw
    – Joseph Weissman
    Dec 25, 2021 at 21:55

“If you’re depressed and anxious, you’re not a machine with broken parts. You’re a human being with unmet needs.”

― Johann Hari, 'Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions'

Being alone has been a widespread religious practice associated with virtue, for instance by Christian hermits and anchorites, and Buddhist sramanas and some monastics.

Zen teacher Seung Sahn talked about practicing meditation for a long time in an ice cave, as like using training-wheels, that is potentially useful but that the real challenge is to be able to meditate on the busiest street in New York, in order to best be able to help others.

"Wherever there have been powerful societies, governments, religions, or public opinions -- in short, wherever there was any kind of tyranny, it has hated the lonely philosopher; for philosophy opens up a refuge for man where no tyranny can reach: the cave of inwardness, the labyrinth of the breast; and that annoys all tyrants."

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer As Educator

Nietzsche & Schopenhaur saw virtues for themselves in solitude.

"I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude." -Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau's book 'Walden' heroises solitude.


“Solitude rehabilitates the soul, corrects morals, renews affections, erases blemishes, purges faults and reconciles man and God”.
-Petrarch, in De Vita Solitaria

is part of entire book defending solitude.


Loneliness and alienation are an endemic aspect of modern industrial civilization and a downstream effect of a culture of lovelessness which is pervasive in our imperialist, consumerist, patriarchal society.

Love is nevertheless -- as the embarassingly-relevant prophetic texts of the world's wisdom traditions uniformly suggest... -- our destiny as a species. A love ethic is the central pillar of a critically-examined life. Love must be willed, and willed more than the will to power.

Solitude is a powerful resource, and there is an important sense in which it is going to be difficult to find others who are capable of giving what you are not able to give yourself. The alchemy needed here to transform sorrow into wisdom -- loneliness into solitude -- is sometimes part of what is needed to convalesce, and eventually to return to a sense of beloved community wherein all parts of society (and ourselves) are recognized and honored.

I can strongly recommend to you All about Love: New Visions (bell hooks) which is a fierce and lucid testament about the power of love to transform us, as well as the myriad guides and obstacles on the path, and the struggles that accompany us along the way.

hooks cites Fromm’s definition of love as essentially being an activity and practice of extending yourself to further the spiritual growth of one another and yourself. Love is incompatible with fear and especially with abuse. The practice of love means a radical reckoning with the actual effects of our actions on the world and on other people and ourselves; a critical engagement which does precisely require action. Love is a verb, a combination of knowledge, respect, commitment, trust, among other elements; but instead of offering clear definitions of love, the phenomenon is routinely mystified and mythologized in our culture, and a cult of violence and death has filled in the spiritual void left behind by the absence of loving community. Coming to terms with these challenges and crucially telling the truth about them is the only path forward which is in congruence with a love ethic, whose correlate is justice and truth-telling. One of the deepest meanings of justice is seeing people and things exactly as they are, undistorted… and without justice there can be no love.

  • Lovely answer. So a little bounty coming your way
    – Rushi
    Dec 25, 2021 at 18:11

First comes to my mind this fun article I recently read about Nietzsche and marriage:

"10 tips for a great marriage according to Nietzsche", Skye Nettleton, Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, Volume 9, Edition 2, 2009.

In Human, All too Human, Nietzsche suggests that it would be much better (for men, presumably) to do away with the custom of one wife for life and instead “one might very well consider whether nature and reason do not dictate that a man ought to have two marriages” (p. 156). The first marriage is the most important and necessary for a man’s education; it should be when the man is twenty-two years old to a woman who is “intellectually and morally his superior and who can lead him through the perils of the twenties” (Nietzsche 1878-80/1996, p. 156). A second marriage, while useful, is not necessary; it should be during a man’s thirties and to a younger disciple “whose education he would himself take in hand”. Later in life, man should preferably be without a wife because marriage “is often harmful and promotes the spiritual retrogression of the man” (Nietzsche 1878- 80/1996, p. 156). In a later work, Nietzsche cites a raft of great philosophers who have not been married as evidence for this incompatibility between marriage and personal fulfilment: “Heraclitus, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Schopenhauer”, with only Socrates as the ironic exception (1887/1989, p. 107).

Referring to:

  • Nietzsche, F. (1989). On the genealogy of morals (W. Kaufmann & R. Hollingdale, Trans.). In W. Kaufmann (Ed.), On the genealogy of morals & Ecce homo. New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1887)
  • Nietzsche, F. (1996). Human, all too human (R. J. Hollingdale, Trans.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1878; additions in 1879, 1880).

Additionally I remember having seen a book called "Solitude: a philosophical encounter", Philip Koch, Open Court Publishing Company, 1994. It was very long reflection about solitude, and its many different aspects. I did not read it, so I am not sure about the contents, but it certainly is talking about what you are interested on.

A quote from the chapter 7, "the virtues of solitude":

I believe that most people find—have always found—solitude particularly propitious for achieving the values I will be enumerating; but some people simply don’t find those values best in solitude. One might try to defend the sharp generality of the virtues of solitude by arguing that unappreciative people are alienated, psychologically blocked, spiritually emaciated, etc., and, although I tend to believe this, I am doubtful that such arguments would be decisive for every case. Better, perhaps, to draw an analogy to the virtues/values of works of art: most people find Rembrandt’s portraits quietly moving but some do not, and most people find Greek temples inspiring though some do not. The numbers of the unappreciative can be greatly reduced by patient education, but a few unregenerates will remain. The fact that there are a few such people, however, does not destroy the virtuosity of those artistic works, their lustrous richness and timeless nobility; just so, the fact that a few people do not observe nature best alone does not prove that attunement to nature is not a special virtue of solitude. That it is such a virtue, the following pages of celebration and reflection undertake to establish.

Anyways, I can tell you also that solitude is also the thing that is very feared by all those that try to avoid, or feel overwhelmed by, discussing solipsism, which is the idea that maybe I am the only thing that exists. You can find thousands (not joking) of academic texts written usually by persons that give all kinds of motives, usually not logically valid, to avoid it, and to assume it is false. It is quite evident that they fear it be true, as there is only a very tiny quantity of philosophers that actually dared to treat this issue with the rigour it deserves (or that it needs to actually research it), instead of just saying "that's for mad men", as even Schopenhauer did, even though he did not seem to be afraid of facing any other philosophical problem.

  • ha hilarious. didn't think of 'solipsism' like that
    – user62233
    Dec 24, 2021 at 15:40
  • My answer to solipsism is, anyone serious about it shouldn't care what anyone else thinks. It ends the basis of discussion interest in pursuading others
    – CriglCragl
    Dec 25, 2021 at 22:37
  • However, that is not an answer about solipsism, and inquiring about something does not mean that one must believe it or practice it or apply it. I can learn about ways to cook meat, and be vegetarian and never eat nor cook meat. Attitudes like this one are precisely the one that prevent actual serious approach to these serious philosophical problems, and therefore hamper the search for a solution.
    – algo
    Jan 9, 2022 at 1:03

loneliness if thought of as a situation rather than a disposition can be identified as a function of capitalism and more precisely as a function of seriality. seriality is the capitalist principle of converting a community into a series of customer numbers so that 20 connected homes on a terraced street become 20 customer numbers and 20 people separate from each other and therefore in a loneliness situation. robin


This is "original research", but seems to capture the dynamic of some of the answers.

In an expression of separation from things, 'I am not you' seems to me to be conducive to ressentiment. So, thinking of loneliness as a negation of either I-it or I-thou, my not being something else seems to make that other thing an 'it': there are always many things which I am not.

Each It is bounded by others and It can only exist through this attachment because for every object there is another object. Thou, on the other hand, has no limitations.

By contrast, does that mean 'you are not me' could potentially represent an unbound, non-substitutable, relation of loneliness, based on how I am always singular, myself?

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