The phenomenology of touch

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

The phenomenology of touch

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In the last chapter, I described the role played by existential feelings. I now turn to their nature. It might seem that existential feelings cannot be bodily feelings. A bodily feeling is surely an experience of the body and of nothing else, whereas an existential feeling is a background sense of belonging to the world, which structures all experiences rather than just experiences of the body. In this chapter, I challenge such assumptions by showing how something can be a bodily feeling and, at the same time, a way of perceiving something else. To do so, I explore the phenomenology of touch. This is a slight detour from the topic of existential feeling. However, as will become apparent towards the end of this chapter, and also in Chapter 4, reflection upon the nature of tactile experience can contribute in several ways to an understanding of the nature and role of existential feelings in everyday life and in psychiatric illness.

I begin by suggesting that the tendency to impose a clear distinction between bodily feelings and world-experience stems in part from over-emphasis upon a questionable conception of visual perception. This emphasis is closely associated with the tendency to think of experience as a spectatorial, detached affair, which I criticized in Chapter 2. Then I show that the phenomenology of touch does not respect the distinction between bodily feeling and world-experience. Touch is a matter of relatedness between body and world, rather than of experiencing one in isolation from the other. In touching something, a bodily feeling is also a perception of something other than the body. I go on to distinguish cases of localized touch, such as picking up a pencil or being prodded on the arm by somebody, from the tactile background that we tend to take for granted. The latter partly comprises the setting for all our experiences and activities. When it undergoes significant changes, so does our sense of belonging to the world. So certain kinds of tactile feeling are not just analogous to existential feeling but also contribute to it, although they are not its only constituents.

Chapter.  11818 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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