Publication details for Prof Matthew RatcliffeRatcliffe, M. (2010). The Phenomenology of Mood and the Meaning of Life. In Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Emotion. Goldie, P. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 349-371.
- Publication type: Books: sections
Author(s) from Durham
In his book The Passions, Robert Solomon proposed that emotions are ‘the meaning of life’. By this, he meant that they constitute the meanings in a life, frameworks of value and significance that are incorporated into the experienced world. I think there is something importantly right about his claim, and my aim in this chapter is to defend a somewhat revised version of it. I begin by outlining Solomon’s conception of emotion, focusing on the phenomenological role assigned to emotion, the distinction drawn between emotions and feelings, and the claim that moods are generalised emotions. I go on to argue that Solomon, like many others who have written on the emotions, misconstrues the phenomenology of mood. It is a background of feeling more often referred to as a ‘mood’ than as ‘emotion’ that plays the meaning-giving role emphasised by Solomon. Moods are not, as is often claimed, generalised emotions (intentional states that have the whole world or a substantial chunk of it as their object). In fact, they are not intentional states at all. Instead, they are part of the background structure of intentionality and are presupposed by the possibility of intentionally directed emotions. To illustrate this, I turn to Martin Heidegger’s phenomenological analysis of boredom and then to descriptions of altered mood in depression. In so doing, I draw a distinction between the intensity or strength of an emotional state and its depth. An emotion can be quite intense but at the same time shallow, whereas a phenomenologically inconspicuous mood can be deep precisely in virtue of its inconspicuousness. The greater depth of the mood, I suggest, consists its being responsible for a space of possibilities that object-directed emotions, however intense, presuppose. For example, to be able to experience fear, one must already find oneself in the world in such a way that being ‘endangered’ or ‘under threat’ are possibilities.
Having described the phenomenological role of moods, I go on to consider their nature. I argue that we experience the world through our feeling bodies, and that distinctions between internally directed bodily feelings and externally directed intentional states should be rejected. I distinguish between intentional and pre-intentional feelings, suggesting that most of those phenomena referred to as ‘emotions’ are comprised at least partly of the former, whereas those moods that constitute the experienced meaningfulness of the world consist entirely of pre-intentional feeling.