Publication details for Professor Matthew RatcliffeRatcliffe, M. (2008). Feelings of Being: Phenomenology, Psychiatry and the Sense of Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Publication type: Books: authored
- ISSN/ISBN: 9780199206469
- Further publication details on publisher web site
Author(s) from Durham
Feelings of Being is a philosophical study of the nature, role and variety of existential feelings in psychiatric illness and in everyday life. There has been a great deal of recent interdisciplinary discussion of emotional feelings. However, many of the feelings that people express do not appear on standard inventories of emotions. For example, people sometimes talk of feelings of unreality, heightened existence, surreality, familiarity, unfamiliarity, estrangement, strangeness, isolation, emptiness, belonging, being at home in the world, being at one with things, significance, insignificance, and the list goes on. Ratcliffe proposes that such feelings form a distinctive group in virtue of three characteristics: they are bodily feelings, they constitute ways of relating to the world as a whole, and they are responsible for our sense of reality. He refers to them as ‘existential’ because they comprise a changeable sense of being part of a world. Existential feelings have not been systematically explored until now, despite the important role that they play in our lives and the devastating effects that disturbances of existential feeling can have in psychiatric illness. Hence Feelings of Being, in offering a detailed phenomenological analysis of existential feelings, is the first book of its kind. The book explains how something can be a bodily feeling and, at the same time, a sense of reality and belonging. It then explores the role of anomalous feeling in psychiatric illness, showing how a phenomenological account of existential feeling can help us to understand experiential changes that occur in a range of conditions, including depression, circumscribed delusions, depersonalisation and schizophrenia. It also addresses the contribution made by existential feelings to religious experience and to philosophical thought.
FEELINGS OF BEING
PHENOMENOLOGY, PSYCHIATRY AND THE SENSE OF REALITY
The Neglect of Existential Feeling
Phenomenology and the Sense of Reality
Summary of the Argument
Part I. The Structure of Existential Feeling
Chapter 1. Emotions and Bodily Feelings
The Dismissal of ‘Mere Affect’
Solomon on Emotion and the Meaning of Life
Uniting Cognition and Affect
Emotions as Embodied Appraisals
Emotions as Bodily Judgements
Bodily Feelings and Feelings Towards
Feeling is not ‘Mere Affect’
Chapter 2. Existential Feelings
Heidegger on Practical Understanding
Heidegger on Mood
Existential Feeling as a Phenomenological Category
The Nonsense Charge
Existential Feelings in Autobiographical Accounts of Psychiatric
Existential Feelings in Literature and Everyday Life
Propositional Attitudes and the Sense of Reality
Chapter 3. The Phenomenology of Touch
Vision and Touch
Touch and Proprioception
Being in Touch with the World
Part II. Varieties of Existential Feeling in Psychiatric Illness
Chapter 4. Body and World
The Feeling Body
The Conspicuous Body
The Phenomenology of Sickness
Existential Feelings, Bodily Dispositions and Possibilities
Chapter 5. Feeling and Belief in the Capgras Delusion
The Capgras Delusion
The Feeling of Unfamiliarity
Relatedness and Recognition
Perceiving the Possible
Experience and Belief
Chapter 6. Feelings of Deadness and Depersonalisation
The Cotard Delusion
Against Two-Factor Accounts
Depersonalisation and Double-Counting
Chapter 7. Existential Feeling in Schizophrenia
Early Descriptions of Schizophrenia
Phenomenological Accounts of Schizophrenia
Diagnoses and Existential Feelings
Kinds of Existential Feeling
Part III. Existential Feeling and Philosophical Thought
Chapter 8. What William James Really Said
Philosophy and Physiology
The Role of Emotion in Experience and Thought
Chapter 9. Stance, Feeling and Belief
Feelings and Philosophical Positions
Stance, Commitment and Critique
Feeling and Epistemic Disposition
Authentic and Inauthentic Philosophies
Conviction and Doubt
Chapter 10. Pathologies of Existential Feeling
The Nature of Religious Experience
Medical and Existential Perspectives
Medical, Epistemic and Pragmatic Pathologies
The Poverty of the Mechanistic World
Introduction (penultimate draft)
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interdisciplinary interest in emotion. Amongst other issues, recent discussions have addressed the nature and role of emotion, the relationship between emotion and expression, the cultural variability of emotion, the narrative structure of emotion and how emotions differ from other kinds of mental states, such as moods and feelings. A question central to current philosophical and scientific work on the topic is that of how emotions relate to bodily feelings. The latter, it is often assumed, are experiences of bodily states and are therefore distinct from experiences of things outside of the body. In contrast, most if not all emotions are intentional states that do not have the body as their primary object. Someone might be happy about an event, jealous of a person or afraid of a vicious, fast-approaching animal. In all these cases, the object of the emotion is not the body but something external to it. Thus, if bodily feeling is integral to emotion, it would seem that it is distinct from the world-directed aspect of emotion. Yet this is at odds with the nagging intuition that the feeling dimension of emotion is bound up with the world-directed intentionality of emotion. In the case of fear, for example, the feeling of fear permeates and shapes the experience of its object; it does not seem to be a bodily state that merely accompanies experience of an object external to the body.
The Neglect of Existential Feeling
In this book, I offer a phenomenological account of bodily feelings, which shows how they can be both feelings of bodily states and at the same time ways of experiencing things outside of the body. World-experience is not distinct from how one’s body feels. On the contrary; the two are utterly inextricable. The experiential entanglement of body and world is more phenomenologically ‘primitive’ than experience of either in isolation from the other, by which I mean that even in cases where either the body or some other part of the world appears to be the sole content of an experience, that experience retains an underlying structure where body and world are inseparable; to experience one is to experience the other. This unity is obscured by a tendency in philosophy and other disciplines to interpret experience dualistically, as experience of bodily states on the one hand and experience of everything else on the other.
Most discussion of bodily feeling has focused specifically upon emotional feelings, the central question being that of how these feelings are associated with or integrated into emotions. In conjunction with this, there is a tendency to limit enquiry to fairly standard lists of emotions, which include anger, fear, joy, guilt, jealousy, envy, pride and so on. There is much debate concerning whether these various emotions together comprise a unitary or ‘natural’ kind of mental state and whether some are basic and others compound emotions. But, despite the many differing views regarding such issues, the lists of emotions that are offered up for discussion remain fairly consistent in their contents.
This book is specifically about feelings, rather than emotions. The emphasis on emotional feeling has, I think, led to the neglect of other kinds of feeling, which have so far resisted tidy classification and are not always constituents of or accompaniments to standard emotions. Amongst these are a distinctive phenomenological category of feelings, which I call ‘existential feelings’. These are the focus of my discussion.
Existential feelings are central to the structure of all human experience. In addition, changes in existential feeling have an important part to play in many kinds of psychiatric illness. The nature and role of existential feeling in psychiatric illness and in everyday life has been obscured by an emphasis on certain familiar emotions and also by a tendency to misinterpret the structure of bodily feeling, stemming from the mistaken assumption that all feelings conform to a distinction between experience of ‘internal’ bodily states and experience of things ‘external’ to the body. Existential feelings are both ‘feelings of the body’ and ‘ways of finding oneself in a world’. By a ‘way of finding oneself in the world’, I mean a sense of the reality of self and of world, which is inextricable from a changeable feeling of relatedness between body and world.
Hence existential feelings comprise a distinctive phenomenological category in virtue of two characteristics:
1. They are not directed at specific objects or situations but are background orientations through which experience as a whole is structured.
2. They are feelings, in the sense that they are bodily states of which we have at least some awareness.
Although they do not feature in recent discussions of emotion, existential feelings are frequently alluded to in everyday discourse. People talk of situations not feeling real and of things feeling surreal, strangely unfamiliar, uncanny, not quite right or too real. Associated with such talk are references to changed relations between self and world. The world can seem close or distant and our relationship with it can involve a general sense of belonging or estrangement. It will become apparent as the discussion progresses that the vocabulary used to describe these feelings is quite extensive. However, it is usually metaphorical or vague, given that there is no accepted taxonomy of existential feelings, their very nature makes them difficult to describe and they cannot be conveyed in terms of certain distinctions that have become entrenched both in academic and everyday life. I will suggest that some of the phenomena ordinarily referred to as ‘emotions’ and ‘moods’ fall into the category of ‘existential feelings’ but that most do not.
The role of existential feeling is perhaps most readily apparent when we consider those occasions when the sense of reality is diminished, fragmented or otherwise changed. We can do this by reflecting upon both our own experiences and the descriptions offered by others. In psychiatry, there are frequent references to a range of such changes, associated with schizophrenia and other conditions. Reports by patients and clinicians frequently refer to a diminished or altered sense of reality and to the self, the world and the relationship between them being somehow different. Such profound alterations in the structure of experience are usually associated with anomalous feeling. Indeed, changes in feeling often seem to be inseparable from distortions and diminutions of a sense of reality and of belonging to a world.
My primary aim is to offer a phenomenological account of the structure of existential feeling in psychiatric illness and in everyday life, which shows how something can be a bodily feeling and also an existential orientation, a sense of the reality of the world and of one’s being situated within it. In so doing, I will also distinguish some of the varieties of existential feeling.
One of the reasons why existential feelings are so difficult to describe is that the reality of the world and the sense of belonging to it are seldom explicitly reflected upon. We might debate over whether some entity is actually present or not, whether that particular entity or entities of its kind even exist, and whether we have sufficient warrant for believing in the existence of something. But no such metaphysical or epistemological discourse casts the sense of reality itself into doubt or even makes it explicit. We take reality and belonging for granted when we experience and think about things, even when engaged in most forms of philosophical enquiry.
Of course, plenty of philosophers have raised sceptical concerns regarding the existence of the external world and how, if at all, we have the right kind of knowledge to justify a belief in the world’s existence. But, as I will show in Part III, such enquiries misconstrue the nature of the conviction that they claim to cast into doubt. The sense that ‘the world exists’ and that ‘I am part of it’ is not a matter of propositions that are assented to in the form of articulate beliefs. The conviction that the world exists is wholly different in character from the proposition that some entity within the world exists. It is a conviction that implicitly remains in place, even in those cases where a philosopher explicitly claims to doubt it.
Phenomenology and the Sense of Reality
The nature of our sense of reality and belonging is explored by various phenomenologists and it is to phenomenology that I turn to in order to make the structure of existential feeling explicit. Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, is clear that the sense of reality is not comprised of a propositional attitude of the form ‘I believe that p’, where p is the proposition ‘some entity called the world exists’. Rather, it is a pre-articulate conviction that is already in place before we explicitly assent to anything in the form of a propositional attitude. According to Husserl, the world’s existence is something that we take for granted in the ‘natural attitude’; it is presupposed throughout everyday life and by almost all intellectual enquiry too. Regardless of what we might doubt or assent to, we continue to take for granted a sense of being part of the world. This ‘sense’ is not itself held up as an object of doubt, even when people claim to sincerely doubt the existence of some entity called the world. As Merleau-Ponty (1964c, pp.163-4) emphasises, the natural attitude is not something that we knowingly adopt; it is not a body of conceptual knowledge, a “tissue of judicatory and propositional acts”, but an “opening” onto the world - an existential orientation that operates as a background to experience and thought, rather than an explicit content of experience or thought.
It is all very well to say such things but the question arises as to how the sense of reality, if we even accept that there is such a thing, can be explored philosophically. A central feature of Husserl’s phenomenological method is a methodological shift that he calls the epoché. This involves a suspension of the natural attitude and, by implication, a withholding of the assumption of the world’s reality that is integral to the natural attitude. Importantly, this is not a matter of simply doubting the reality of the world. When the phenomenologist withdraws from the natural attitude and thus from her ordinarily implicit commitment to the reality of the world, she leaves that commitment intact but ‘brackets’ it. From this disengaged perspective, she is able to study the structure of the natural attitude, including the sense of reality. This is something that she would not be able to do if she simply inhabited the natural attitude and, in so doing, implicitly accepted the reality of the world. Hence the phenomenologist is required to “abstain” from what Husserl calls “natural believing” in the reality of the world. In so doing, she acquires the ability to reflect upon the structure of everyday experience. The world of everyday social life (or ‘life world’) and also the scientifically described world both presuppose the natural attitude and, in bracketing that attitude, the phenomenologist is no longer committed to what is posited in either context. Instead she takes “not just corporeal Nature but the whole concrete surrounding life-world” as “from now on, only a phenomenon of being, instead of something that is” (1960, p.19).
This is not a denial of the world’s reality. Husserlian phenomenology is neither a form of realism nor of idealism. It is not idealism because it preserves intact the sense that the world exists independently of our experiences of it and our thoughts about it. But it is not a form of realism either, as it does not accept the reality of things and begin from there but instead enquires, amongst other things, as to what the sense of reality consists of:
That the being of the world ‘transcends’ consciousness […] and that it necessarily remains transcendent, in no wise alters the fact that it is in conscious life alone, wherein everything transcendent becomes constituted, as something inseparable from consciousness, and which specifically, as world-consciousness, bears within itself inseparably the sense: world – and indeed ‘this actually existing’ world. (Husserl, 1960, p.62)
The sense of reality is something that is constituted by our experience but this does not entail that there is no reality other than consciousness or that the ‘real world’ that we ordinarily take for granted does not exist. This is because the sense of reality that we have is a sense of a world that does transcend the experiences of individuals, a world that is not contained within one or more consciousnesses. But the phenomenologist, in suspending the natural attitude, has adopted a different perspective or orientation, from which the structure of background commitments, integral to everyday experience and thought, are described rather than assumed. So the structure of world-experience is not changed by the epoché. The sense of reality and belonging that is integral to it is preserved in its entirety:
…..the world experienced in this reflectively grasped life goes on being for me (in a certain manner) ‘experienced’ as before, and with just the content it has at any particular time. It goes on appearing, as it appeared before; the only difference is that I, as reflecting philosophically, no longer keep in effect (no longer accept) the natural believing in existence involved in experiencing the world – though that believing too is still there and grasped by my noticing regard. (Husserl, 1960, pp.19-20)
The phenomenological enquirer has become disconnected from a way of experiencing that she ordinarily inhabits and is thus able to study its structure. So she does not offer a metaphysical or epistemological thesis but asks a different kind of question. Amongst other things, she asks what the sense of reality consists of, a sense that is presupposed by any question regarding what is and is not real or how we know what is and is not real.
Several authors have suggested that Husserl’s conception of the ‘natural attitude’ serves to cast light on the nature of changed experience in psychiatric illness and, more specifically, in schizophrenia. For example, Stanghellini (2001, 2004) refers to the natural attitude as a “commonsense orientation” through which the world is experienced. He takes commonsense to be a practical, bodily appreciation of the world, rather than a body of conceptual knowledge. Schizophrenia, he claims, is a “crisis of commonsense”, central to which is a loss of the sense of others as ‘people’ (2001, p.201). He also notes the relationship between a sense of reality and a feeling of rootedness or connectedness in the social world, suggesting that the sense of reality is an “experience of belonging” (2004, p.69). Such claims complement the work of earlier authors working in the field of phenomenological psychiatry. Minkowski, for instance, claims that schizophrenia involves a loss of “vital contact with reality”, an absence of felt belonging (Minkowski and Targowla, 2001). Blankenburg (2001) appeals to the closely related notion of a loss of “natural self-evidence”, a breakdown of practical commonsense and a feeling of doubt regarding what was previously implicitly assumed.
An even closer parallel has been drawn between Husserlian phenomenology and schizophrenia, which emphasises the similarity between schizophrenic experience and the epoché. Husserl’s phenomenology demands a kind of detachment from one’s own experiences, which are no longer lived but instead become objects of reflection. There is a peculiar bifurcation of self, as one withdraws from one’s experiencing whilst leaving that experiencing intact. Depraz (2003), Stanghellini (2004, 2007) and others have claimed that schizophrenic people involuntarily perform the epoché, leaving their natural living and becoming detached onlookers upon their experiences:
Phenomenologists believe that schizophrenic persons have the capacity to perform the reduction much better than ordinary people: they show an enhanced aptitude to the epoché. (Depraz, 2003, p, 189)
Such claims are misleading. Central to Husserl’s method is the requirement that the sense of reality remains intact, that the structure of experience is preserved, thus allowing accurate phenomenological description of it. The phenomenologist withdraws from the everyday existential orientation in order to study its structure but, in so doing, she does not change its structure. Regardless of controversies surrounding how many variants of schizophrenia there are and even whether there is such a thing as ‘schizophrenia’ (of which I will say more in Chapter 7), something that is clear is that all those people diagnosed as schizophrenic undergo a significant change in existential orientation. When they do so, the original orientation or ‘natural attitude’ is no longer intact; the sense of reality is not preserved but profoundly altered. Stanghellini (2007, p.132) acknowledges that, unlike the phenomenological epoché, the schizophrenic withdrawal becomes “part of the natural attitude situated in ordinary life”. But, given that it replaces the natural attitude, rather than leaving it intact, there is a significant difference between phenomenological and schizophrenic ‘attitudes’.
I will however support the view that schizophrenia and other psychiatric illnesses involve changes to what Husserl calls the ‘natural attitude’. Given such changes, a methodological shift that plays the role of the Husserlian epoché is required in order to interpret the relevant experiences. If an experience involves a change in the sense of reality or even a loss of that sense, one cannot adequately comprehend it if one interprets it against the backdrop of a presupposed sense of reality.
A word of caution is required at this point. It should not be assumed that there is a single sense of ‘reality’, which is integral to a constant, everyday, natural attitude that almost of us unthinkingly inhabit. Reference to a host of subtly different feelings of ‘being’, ‘existence’ or ‘reality’ can be found throughout everyday life and such talk is certainly not restricted to a small number of highly unusual or obviously pathological experiences. For all of us, there are times when the world can feel unfamiliar, unreal, unusually real, homely, distant, or close. It can be something that one feels apart from or at one with. One can feel like a participant in the world or like a detached, estranged observer, staring at objects that do not seem to be quite there. All experiences have, as a background, a changeable sense of one’s relationship with the world. This background, I will suggest, is best understood in terms of feeling; ways of finding oneself in a world are, at the same time, feelings of the body. One of my central claims is that there is no unitary ‘natural attitude’; existential feelings vary in all sorts of subtle ways from person to person and from time to time. And the existential feelings of some people no doubt fluctuate more than those of others. Hence it would be a mistake to postulate a single, everyday mode of existential feeling and then a few perturbations from it, which occur only in psychiatric illnesses or as a result of taking certain drugs. I do acknowledge that existential changes involved in schizophrenia and other psychiatric illnesses are quite extreme, falling outside the range that most of us experience. Even so, the recognition that everyday life involves a plethora of different existential feelings, rather than one ‘normal’ existential orientation, serves to make certain pathological forms of experience more comprehensible, less removed from ‘mundane’ experience.
Given the range of existential feelings, talk of a single, constant ‘sense of reality’ is misplaced. As I will emphasise, the ‘sense of reality’ is something that differs subtly in character from one existential predicament to another. To further complicate matters, existential feelings are sometimes referred to as changes in the sense of ‘being’ or ‘existence’, rather than ‘reality’. These three terms are often used as synonyms but not always. Someone might refer to losing the everyday sense of reality and, at the same time, being confronted with bare existence.
In the process of describing existential feelings, I will also diagnose a range of commonplace philosophical maladies that serve to obscure them. As mentioned earlier, the nature of existential feelings (and indeed feelings more generally) has been obfuscated by the imposition of a clear-cut distinction between experience of body and experience of world. But there are a host of other, closely related dualisms that also need to be discarded in order to appreciate the nature of our changeable sense of reality. A particularly troublesome one is that between cognition and affect but there are many others. Internal is contrasted with external, inside with outside, body with world, self with non-self, mind with world, mental with non-mental, subject with object and the list goes on. None of these apply to the way in which we already find ourselves in the world before we conceptualise ourselves in such ways. Finding oneself in the world is unitary; feelings of the body are also ways of being in a world and the relatedness between self and world is more experientially primitive than the apprehension of either in isolation from the other.
It is also important to emphasise that the everyday world is a world of other people, infused throughout with a sense of the personal. Others are not simply add-ons to an already established reality. To quote Blankenburg (2001, p.307):
Affectivity and the ability to judge, as we find it in common sense, refer back to an original unity of thinking, feeling and willing in human existence, which is primarily related to an intersubjective world.
Another inappropriate theoretical imposition that has obscured the nature of existential feeling is that of the ‘propositional attitude’. It is frequently assumed by philosophers that all states of conviction can be conveyed in the form ‘B believes that p’ where p is any meaningful proposition you like, such as ‘the car is red’, ‘nobody is in the room’ or ‘there is such a thing as schizophrenia’. But existential feelings do not conform to this assumption. The sense of reality, of belonging, of the world’s existence, is not a matter of some proposition being accepted. Existential feelings constitute a more fundamental appreciation of reality than various kinds of state that are referred to as ‘beliefs’ or ‘propositional attitudes’. Furthermore, many pathological experiences that are frequently interpreted and explained in terms of changes in ‘affect’, coupled with pathologies of ‘belief’, are, I will argue, better interpreted as arising from altered ‘feelings of being’.
This is not just a book about what phenomenology can contribute to psychiatry or, alternatively, about what psychiatry can contribute to phenomenology. The two are mutually illuminating. Certain misguided presuppositions have influenced recent philosophical enquiry into the nature of pathological experiences. Phenomenological accounts that dispense with these presuppositions thus serve as a better interpretive framework through which to understand such experiences. Hence phenomenology can contribute to understanding in psychiatry. However, descriptions of pathological experience offered by psychiatrists and patients also aid phenomenological enquiry, in so far as they rest uncomfortably with phenomenological accounts of world-experience or draw attention to something that has been missed, and so prompt us to reconsider certain phenomenological descriptions. So there is an ongoing hermeneutic between the two fields, where philosophical assumptions are questioned and refined through attention to work in psychiatry and philosophical accounts of experience, in turn, contribute to an understanding of psychiatric illness. My aim here is to offer a phenomenological analysis of existential feeling and to show how this can be fruitfully applied to psychiatry and refined in the process. I do not set out to offer a comprehensive account of the varieties of existential feeling in psychiatric illness, although I do distinguish some of them.
Although I advocate a Husserlian methodological orientation of sorts, according to which we make the sense of reality a focus for enquiry rather than taking it for granted, I am very doubtful as to the prospect of a complete epoché. To bifurcate oneself in such a way that the stream of lived experience is perfectly preserved whilst a reflective attitude is at the same time adopted towards it strikes me as a phenomenologically impossible achievement. We can withdraw from aspects of experience and reflect upon them but we cannot bracket the entirety of experience in one go. Phenomenology does require adopting a kind of methodological orientation or stance, involving an appreciation of certain kinds of question that are seldom addressed by mainstream Anglophone metaphysics and epistemology. Amongst other things, we shift from asking what is real and how we know what is real to asking what the sense of reality, an aspect of our experience that such questions take for granted, consists of. But a phenomenological stance does not in itself provide us with access to the pure and unadulterated totality of possible experience. Phenomenological reflection is something that can proceed gradually and collaboratively; one engages with and interprets the predicaments of others as one reflects. And I regard the reports of clinicians and patients, in addition to the narratives and expressions offered by people more generally, as indispensable guides when it comes to exploring the phenomenology of existential feeling. My aim here is to pursue this kind of phenomenological enquiry, rather than to vindicate the thought of any particular phenomenologist, and I draw selectively from the works of various authors, principally Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. Although there are significant differences between the methods of these thinkers and the phenomenological descriptions that they offer, I hope it will become clear as the discussion proceeds that the lessons which I draw from them here do complement each other and together contribute to a cohesive phenomenological account of existential feeling.
To further complicate the methodological issue, existential feelings are not just part of the subject matter of phenomenology; they also have an important role to play in phenomenological enquiry. Phenomenology requires suspending certain existential orientations – at least to some degree - in order to reflect upon their structure. But how can one suspend an inarticulate, practical, felt way of finding oneself in the world? Drawing on Heidegger and others, I will suggest that changes in existential feeling serve to reveal structures of experience that are ordinarily taken for granted. Without such changes, we might be oblivious to the sense of reality altogether; we might never ‘see’ it. But, when the structure of experience is disturbed in certain ways, what was in the background becomes conspicuous. I will propose in the final three chapters that existential feelings play a role in philosophy more generally - many significant differences between ‘philosophies’ owe more to differences in existential orientation than they do to contrasting views regarding the cogency of explicit arguments.
Summary of the Argument
Part I introduces the concept of existential feeling. The first chapter begins by reviewing some recent accounts of the relationship between emotions and bodily feelings, paying particular attention to those approaches that attempt, in different ways, to unite bodily feeling with the world-directed aspect of emotion. Although it is increasingly recognised that feelings are about things other than the body, I observe that no satisfactory phenomenological account has been offered of how this might be so. Then I consider the variety of feelings that people refer to in everyday life and suggest that excessive emphasis on ‘emotional feelings’ has led to the neglect of other kinds of feeling, including existential feeling. In Chapter 2, existential feelings are introduced through a discussion of Heidegger’s account of ‘mood’. Heidegger claims that moods are not subjective states but existential orientations. They play a role in constituting the unitary structure of Being-in-the-world and do not respect distinctions between subject and object or inside and outside. I go on to point out some shortcomings of Heidegger’s account and make a case for adopting the term ‘existential feeling’, rather than ‘mood’. Following this, there are some preliminary reflections of existential feelings in psychiatric and everyday life, which focus on autobiographical accounts of depression and schizophrenia. The chapter concludes by stressing the distinction between having a sense of reality and having a propositional attitude. Chapter 3 makes a case for the inextricability of body and world in existential feeling by drawing an analogy between existential and tactile feelings. In touch, perception of the body and perception of things outside of the body are indissociable aspects of a unitary perceptual experience. Existential feelings, I propose, not only have an analogous structure but also incorporate tactile feelings.
With this phenomenological account in place, Part II turns to the role of existential feelings in psychiatric illness, showing how the concept of existential feeling can be fruitfully applied to interpret various pathological experiences and also how the study of such experiences can, in turn, refine our appreciation of the nature and variety of existential feelings. Chapter 4 further develops the view that many bodily feelings are not experiences of bodily states but ways of experiencing the relationship between body and world. Some such feelings, I argue, are not specific experiences, with particular objects, but existential backgrounds. This claim is supported by an appeal to various instances of existential feeling in psychiatric and non-psychiatric illnesses and in everyday life. The chapter concludes by showing how the phenomenological concept of a ‘horizon’, as employed by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, can serve to convey how (a) existential orientations operate as backgrounds to experience and thought and (b) these orientations can at the same time consist of feelings of bodily states. Chapter 5 turns to the Capgras delusion, which is generally characterised as the belief that one or more familiars have been replaced by impostors. I employ the delusion as a case study with which to demonstrate how something that is generally taken to involve both affective anomalies and propositional attitudes is more plausibly interpreted in terms of changed existential feeling. Chapter 6 then proceeds along similar lines, showing how explanations that appeal to altered feeling plus altered belief are guilty of double-counting. The chapter begins by considering the Cotard delusion, the ‘belief’ that one is dead, nonexistent or disembodied. I argue that it is not a matter of affective diminution plus faulty reasoning, which together culminate in the propositional attitude ‘I am dead’. Instead, the utterances of patients express a changed existential orientation. I go on to suggest that much the same lesson applies to the phenomenon of depersonalisation. Chapter 7 addresses the topic changed existential feeling in schizophrenia. Drawing on the work of Sass and others, I argue that distinctions between positive and negative symptoms stem from the inappropriate imposition of a distinction between cognition and affect. Symptoms such as disorganised thought, delusions and thought insertion can all be understood, at least in part, in terms of changed existential feeling. The chapter concludes by addressing the difficult question of how many kinds of existential feeling are involved in psychiatric illness. Variants of existential feeling are, I suggest, highly unlikely to reliably track broad diagnostic categories such as ‘schizophrenia’. I conclude the chapter by drawing some distinctions between the kinds of existential feeling that feature in autobiographical and clinical reports.
Part III addresses the role of existential feeling in philosophical enquiry, focusing throughout on the work of William James. Chapter 8 offers a rehabilitation of James’s account of emotion. He is often charged with construing emotions as feelings of bodily changes and thus cutting them off from world-experience. However, by situating his work on emotion in the context of his other writings, I show that he does nothing of the sort. In fact, he acknowledges a range of feelings that do not feature in standard lists of emotions and also recognises their role in constituting a variable sense of reality. Changes in this sense of reality are, according to James, the sources of different philosophical stances or orientations. Chapter 9 takes, as its starting point, Sass’s positive comparison between the ‘hyper-reflexivitity’ characteristic of schizophrenia and the philosopher’s disposition towards detachment, abstraction and alienation from practice. Then I turn again to James, exploring and further developing his account of the relationship between feelings and philosophical thought. Following this, I consider what certain more recent authors have to say about ground-floor philosophical commitments. I propose that existential feelings have an important part to play in the process of philosophical enquiry and also that the ability to shift one’s existential orientation is an important aspect of the rational, critical enterprise. Existential feelings also play a more specific role in phenomenological enquiry, amounting to performance of a partial epoché. Hence they are integral to my own method. Chapter 10 rounds things off by addressing the question of what distinguishes pathological from non-pathological existential feelings. To do so, I turn to so-called ‘religious’ experiences, which, I suggest, have changes in existential feeling at their core. My reason for focusing on these experiences is that there is considerable debate over whether they fall into the ‘pathological’ or the ‘non-pathological’ category. I argue that at least some of the existential orientations typical of ‘religious’ experiences can be distinguished from pathological existential feelings. In so doing, I offer a more general criterion for making the distinction. Central to all cases of what I call an ‘existential pathology’ is an impaired sense of others as people or an inability to connect with other people.
The book concludes by commenting on the ‘mechanistic’ or ‘naturalistic’ worldview and proposing that, in its failure to acknowledge the way in which we find ourselves in the world, it amounts to an extreme but generally unacknowledged form of scepticism.