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Heidegger on Mood

A human being who–as we say–is in good humour brings a lively atmosphere with them. Do they, in so doing, bring about an emotional experience which is then transmitted to others, in the manner in which infectious germs wander back and forth from one organism to another? We do indeed say that mood is infectious. Or another human being is with us, someone who through their manner of being makes everything depressing and puts a damper on everything: nobody steps out of their shell. What does this tell us? Moods are not side-effects, but are something which in advance determine our being with one another. It seems as though a mood is in each case already there, so to speak, like an atmosphere in which we first immerse ourselves in each case and which then attunes us through and through.

Heidegger, Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics

Even if you don’t buy the ontology, as I don’t, I think it’s right to say that the idea of pre-cognitive moods and their influence have been played down in notions of public discourse. The area in which they persist is, ironically, psychopathology. People talk about “depressed cognitions,” “manic cognitions,” “ideas of reference,” and so on, as though allowing one’s thoughts to be influenced by one’s prevailing mood sways one from the straight and narrow path of rationality. Of course, this is a total illusion, and the work of Antonio Damasio and other neurologists is confirming what should have been pretty obvious all along: that emotions are indispensable for cognition.

Still, I don’t think that it’s yet time to throw away cognitive-behavioral therapy, as boring as it is. (The old psychologist’s joke about CBT is that no matter what your problem is, the solution first involves making a giant list of things contributing to that problem and ranking them.) The very separation of mood from thought is wrong, so the only feasible model would be one of feedback, where thought influences mood and mood influences thought, and they team up in tandem to provide the inertia that keeps us in our befindlichkeit (i.e., our disposition towards the world).


  1. Emerson: “Our moods do not believe in each other.” And I think it was Sartre — but maybe he was getting it from Heidegger — who said that moods were the way we came to self-awareness. If our moods never changed there’d be some fundamental sense of our own interiority that we would lack, since we’d lose a kind of self-discrepent consciousness of our affects; we’d lack awareness of the mental dynamism that the temporality of affect brings home to us.

  2. What is really essential for understanding Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit is the notion of determination in advance. Dasein predetermines its encounter with others by attuning its world before the encounter. Heidegger is not talking about emotions, buit about this attunement.

    Also, Befindlichkeit has been translated as both “mood” and as “disposition”; it is the same concept.

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