What Can We Learn From Mood?
Heidegger On Reason and Emotion
“To a green thought in a green shade.”—Andrew Marvell
One of Heidegger’s core insights is that we cannot separate mood (Stimmung) and understanding (Verstehen). When we think, we always have an attitude. And when we have an attitude it is because it is accompanied by an implicit take on how things stand.
Heidegger seems to be trodding a middle ground in an age-old debate about the place of emotion in the good life.
On one extreme is the view that a good life requires us to distrust and/or control our emotions. On the other is the view that a good life is a passionate one, and that one’s affective position provides the opening to insight and transformation. I think the first view is well represented by the Stoics, while the latter view by the psalmist.
The debate about emotion also tends to track with a debate about the body. Ascetics like Plato malign the body as a “prison.” Freedom is to be found in soulful activity, not in the pursuit of vulgar pleasure. Yet when you look at religious art, especially Christian depictions of the “Passion,” you find a veneration of suffering and the fleshly condition as supremely meaningful. Jewish law guides observers of holidays to feel love, awe, joy, grief, and anger; as well as to serve God through carnal practices, such as shaking lulav and etrog, feasting, eating matzah, drinking wine, lighting candles, etc.
Heidegger seems to be saying—descriptively—that emotion is not only an ineradicable part of life, but is part and parcel of thought. At the same time, I don’t see Heidegger advocating for “emotionalism,” or arguing, as you might find amongst Hasidic thinkers and Protestant revivalists, for the abandonment of cognition. On the contrary, Heidegger’s view is that one can be a rationalist and an emotionalist without compromising either.
Going one step further, Heidegger links mood to the past and understanding to the future. Moods are our commentaries on what has happened to us; understanding reflects our expectation or anticipation of what will happen. We cannot separate mood from understanding any more than we can separate past from future.
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