Pathologies of existential feeling

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

Pathologies of existential feeling

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I have discussed the role of existential feelings in everyday life, psychiatric illness and philosophical enquiry. The contrast between everyday feelings and those that feature in illness indicates that some existential feelings are pathological and others not. There is also the issue of whether some of the feelings that motivate philosophical thought are pathological. In this final chapter, I address the question of what it is that distinguishes pathological from non-pathological existential feelings. To do so, I focus on the topic of religious experience. Religious experience has often been compared to psychotic experience and thus serves as a suitable case study through which to explore some of the philosophical problems involved in determining whether or not an existential orientation is pathological. Again, I refer to what William James has to say on the matter. Drawing on his work, I suggest that existential feelings are central to religious experience but that the relevant feelings are not themselves intrinsically religious. Then I consider whether some or all of these feelings are pathological, drawing a distinction between biological, epistemic, pragmatic and existential pathologies in the process. (Hence I use the word ‘pathological’ in a broad way, to refer to something going wrong in the context of a human life, rather than to something going wrong in a specifically biological way.) I go on to offer an account of what it is for a predicament to be existentially pathological and argue that a complete or partial loss of openness to interpersonal possibilities is central to all such cases. I bring the book to a close by returning to those attitudes in philosophy, science and everyday life that involve a surreptitious denial of our existential predicament. I suggest that they are not existentially pathological but that they do amount to a kind of intellectual pathology, an extreme but unacknowledged form of scepticism that is sometimes accompanied by existential unsettledness.

Chapter.  10970 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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