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Approaches to Death

How do the biological, psychological, anthropological, philosophical, and sociological approaches to death differ?

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The biological approach mostly differs from philosophical and sociological approaches while being correlated with psychological and anthropological approaches because this approach depends on studying death in connection with changes in human bodies. From this point, medical issues matter because the death is discussed from the point of diseases’ causes, genetic causes, and necessary diagnoses (Leming & Dickinson, 2011, p. 22; Papadatou, 2006, p. 652). In this case, death is explained as the biological process (Leming & Dickinson, 2011, p. 22). However, physicians often do not follow the biological approach strictly because they focus on the meaning of biology, and their approach is connected with social science orientation (Leming & Dickinson, 2011, p. 23).

The psychological approach differs from the other approaches in emphasizing the people’s attitudes to death. Thus, following the approach, researchers examine the experiences of pain, changes in the people’s death anxiety during the life stages, the death denial as the defense mechanism, the emotion of grief, and even emotional stages while dying (Leming & Dickinson, 2011, p. 23). The psychological approach also provides the fundament for the psychoanalytic approach or perspective.

Following the philosophical approach, death is explained as the transition without involving the biological issues, but this approach is connected with the psychological one because existentialists focus on accepting death as the extraordinary event in the people’s life (Leming & Dickinson, 2011, p. 24). Furthermore, these two approaches are connected with references to phenomenology when the focus is on examining the suicide attempts or near-death experiences to understand the phenomenon of death and people’s perceptions (Leming & Dickinson, 2011, p. 24).

The anthropological approach differs from the other approaches in focusing on different cultures’ rituals associated with death (Leming & Dickinson, 2011, p. 24). Anthropologists are inclined to examine the cultural values rather than philosophical backgrounds, and this approach is more correlated with the psychological one when it is necessary to study the people’s emotional reactions different in various cultures or with the biological approach when it is important to study the bodies’ remains (Leming & Dickinson, 2011, p. 24). However, this approach is unique in examining the death rituals in their connection with the celebration of life.

The sociological approach is based on such theories as structural-functional theory, conflict theory, social exchange theory, and symbolic interaction theory where structural functionalists focus on death as the part of the social balance; conflict theorists concentrate on inequality in the medical care distribution, which can cause deaths; social exchange theorists focus on the personal relations as the trigger to exchange the resources referring to death and funerals; and symbolists choose to examine death-related behaviors in their symbolic form (Leming & Dickinson, 2011, p. 25-33).

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It is possible to determine the psychological approach as the most significant one to examine the changes in the person’s perceptions of death, which change from childhood to maturity. Thus, the psychological approach can be discussed as the effective one to explain the people’s fears associated with the notion of death because death is often perceived under the impact of such emotions like anxiety, fear, and grief, and it is necessary to find the way to stabilize the person’s psychological state and to work with these intensive emotions. For instance, the psychological approach is important for persons who work with dying people in hospitals because it is necessary to find the individual approach to clients and to relieve their not only physical but also emotional sufferings (Papadatou, 2006, p. 651).


Leming, M., & Dickinson, G. (2011). Understanding dying, death, and bereavement. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Papadatou, D. (2006). Caregivers in death, dying, and bereavement situations. Death Studies, 30(7), 649-663.

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