Heidegger and the Philosophy of Psychology

Befindlichkeit is among the most frequently misunderstood concepts in Heidegger's work. Certainly it is the most important among those that are frequently misunderstood. Befindlichkeit is one of Heidegger's three basic parameters of human existence (Existenziale) which are involved in most of his other conceptions. The other two basic parameters are understanding and speech. The three are inherently interrelated so that one can only understand them together. In outlining them we will therefore go to the core of Heidegger's philosophy.

Heidegger says that Befindlichkeit refers to what is ordinarily called "being in a mood," and also what is called "feeling" and "affect." But Heidegger offers a radically different way of thinking about this ordinary experience. Befindlichkeit refers to the kind of beings that humans are, that aspect of these beings which makes for them having moods, feelings, or affects.

But Heidegger thinks about this human being in a very different way than most people do, and so he also thinks about mood and feeling very differently.Let me give a rough initial impression of Heidegger's very different basic conception, Befindlichkeit.

"Sich befinden" (finding oneself) thus has three allusions: The reflexivity of finding oneself; feeling; and being situated. All three are caught in the ordinary phrase, "How are you?" That refers to how you feel but also to how things are going for you and what sort of situation you find yourself in. To answer the question you must find yourself, find how you already are. And when you do, you find yourself amidst the circumstances of your living.Heidegger coined a clumsy noun from the German colloquial forms. To translate it, let us not look for an existing noun in English, since he found none in German. His noun is like "how-are-you-ness" or perhaps "self-finding."The reason for being careful about these allusions, and for keeping his sense of the word, is because Befindlichkeit is a new conception and cannot be rendered in old ones.

To view feelings, affects, and moods as Befindlichkeit differs from the usual view in the following ways:

1. Heidegger's concept denotes how we sense ourselves in situations. Whereas feeling is usually thought of as something inward, Heidegger's concept refers to something both inward and outward, but before a split between inside and outside has been made.We are always situated, in situations, in the world, in a context, living in a certain way with others, trying to achieve this and avoid that.A mood is not just interns, it is this living in the world. We sense how we find ourselves, and we find ourselves in situations.Americans might say that "Befindlichkeit" is an "interactional" concept, rather than an "intrapsychic" one. But it is both and exists before the distinction is made. "Interaction" is also inaccurate for another reason. It assumes that first there are two, and only then is there a relation between them.For Heidegger, humans are their living in the world with others. Humans are livings-in, and livings-with.

2. A second difference from the usual conception of "feeling" lies in this: Befindlichkeit always already has its own understanding. (Here is Heidegger's second basic parameter of human existence: "understanding.") We may not know what the mood is about, we may not even be specifically aware of our mood, nevertheless there is an understanding of our living in that mood. It is no merely internal state or reaction, no mere coloring or accompaniment to what is happening. We have lived and acted in certain ways for certain purposes and strivings and all this is going well or badly, but certainly it is going in some intricate way. How we are faring in these intricacies is in our mood. We may not know that in a cognitive way at all; it is in the mood nevertheless, implicitly.This understanding is active; it is not merely a perception or reception of what is

3. This understanding is implicit, not cognitive in the usual sense. It differs from cognition in several ways: It is sensed or felt, rather than thought--and it may not even be sensed or felt directly with attention. It is not made of separable cognitive units or any definable units. When you are asked, "How are you?" you don't find only recognizables, but always also an implicit complexity. Certainly one can reflect and interpret, but that will be another, further step.

4. Heidegger says that speech is always already involved in any feeling or mood, indeed in any human experience. Speech is the articulation of understanding, but this articulation doesn't first happen when we try to say what we feel. Just as Befindlichkeit always already has its understanding, so also does it always already have its spoken articulation. This doesn't at all mean that there is always a way to say what one lives in words. But there are always speakings, with each other, and listening to each other, involved in any situation, and implicit in any living. Hearing each other, being open to each other's speech, is part of what we are, the living we are. And so it is always already involved in our living, whatever we may then actually say or not say.

So we see that, although Heidegger is talking about the ordinary experience of feelings, affects, or moods, he has given that experience a very different structure. We sense ourselves living in situations with others, with an implicit understanding of what we are doing and with communication between us always already involved. A feeling is all that. Our new conception of feeling has the structure I just outlined.

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