Existential feelings

Matthew Ratcliffe

in Feelings of Being

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780199206469
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754470 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Existential feelings

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In the last chapter, I proposed that bodily feelings are not just feelings of internal bodily states; they can also contribute to experiences of things outside of the body. In addition, I suggested that certain feelings are not experiences of specific entities or of entities in general. Instead, they are ways of finding ourselves in the world, existential backgrounds that shape all our experiences. In this chapter and the next, I will further develop and defend these claims. The aim of the current chapter is to describe the experiential role of existential feeling. Then, in Chapter 3, I will offer a phenomenological account of how something can be both a bodily feeling and an experience of something other than the body.

I have already noted that when philosophers reflect upon experience, they usually impose distinctions between body and world, subject and object or internal and external. These distinctions stem, in part, from a tendency to construe experience as the standoffish, spectatorial contemplation of objects by a curiously detached subject, who is set apart from the world that she somehow experiences. As I will show in this chapter, such thinking fails to recognize the way in which we already find ourselves in a world when we encounter something in that way. However detached we might become in relation to a particular object of experience, that experience still presupposes a background orientation, a variable sense of belonging and of reality. I describe the role of this background by drawing on some themes in Heidegger's work. First of all, I sketch the way in which Heidegger challenges commonplace conceptions of experience. Then I show how this paves the way for his characterization of mood as something that we find ourselves in, which does not conform to a distinction between experience of ‘internal’ states and of an ‘external’ world. Following this, two weaknesses in his account are considered and, in the process, the rationale for adopting the term ‘existential feeling’ instead of ‘mood’ is made clear. The remainder of the chapter embarks upon a preliminary exploration of the phenomenology of existential feeling, by looking at how it features in autobiographical accounts of schizophrenia and depression, and in literary descriptions of experience. In the process, I discuss the tendency in philosophy of mind and philosophical psychology to over-emphasize propositional attitudes. I argue that, like the tendency to conceive of experience as a detached, spectatorial affair, this serves to obscure the phenomenology of existential feeling.

Chapter.  16743 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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