A Discussion of Heidegger's Concept of Mood
Since the 1930s, Western democratic politics has been challenged and undermined by postmodern political behavior and postmodern political theory. Western democratic political theory was--and is--based on the assumption that individual voters know their own interests and calculate rationally how to maximize them and thence how to vote. According to this political philosophy, not just voting, but political behavior broadly conceived, such as local civic participation, community membership, and small group interaction, springs out of the individual's objective and rational view of the world. Postmodernism denies these assumptions.
Anti-democracy and anti-individualism runs through the twentieth century like an underground river, beginning with fascism in the 1930s, and continuing after the war, in the United States, for instance, with McCarthyism, racism, and sexism. Commitment to Communism, too, exhibited symptoms of being a postmodern political phenomenon, despite Marxists' loud claim that Marxism was the pre-eminent modern political philosophy. Postmodernism has erupted in the twenty first century, too. Since 9/11, many Westerners have, with reason, come to perceive Islamism as a postmodern social phenomenon.
Efforts by thinkers to understand the roots of the emergence of postmodern politics, with its surrender to irrationality and mass society, have drawn deeply on the work of the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, one of the founders of the philosophy of existentialism. According to Heidegger, persons are governed by mood, not reason. In this series of articles, we will examine and critique Heidegger's concept of mood and his theory of human personhood based upon it. We begin with a brief introduction to his views.
Heidegger asserts that mood exists before judgment, before thought, impressions, awareness, attention. Mood exists before sensory activation, before completion of the electrostatic bridge over the infinitesimal gap between neural poles of actual and possible, before the neurochemical impulse races the brief circuit from retina or inner ear or other sensorium to frontal lobe. Mood exists before reaction or action. We--each of us--live in our own phenomenal world of experience, but our phenomenal world lives in mood. Fragments of experience as fine as flakes of iron are arranged and oriented in lines of magnetic force. Iron bits vibrate with electric charge as mood, the great ontological ocean of Being, swirls around them, through them, over and under them.
What is mood? Here is Heidegger's definition, from Being and Time--"Ontologically mood is a primordial kind of Being for Dasein, in which Dasein is disclosed to itself prior to all cognition and volition, and beyond their range of disclosure." "Dasein" is Heidegger's German word meaning, the person-in-his(her)-world.
Primordial mood is the fundamental awareness that we are alive and are our own being in our world. It is the revealing of ourselves in the world to ourselves. Our world refers to our experienced world, including the presence of other persons, objects, public places, landscapes, and cities. It is not co-extensive with our consciousness or self-consciousness. It is not a private world, in the same way our dreams are private to us.
Everyone occasionally experiences such mood. Coming out of deep sleep, for instance, or total anesthesia after surgery, we will for a brief moment realize that we are waking and are in some place, though we might not know exactly where. Our existence as ourself awakening in the world is disclosed to us. We might even say to ourselves, "Oh, I'm waking and I'm in a room." A few moments later, our consciousness will have oriented itself. We would then know where we are, remember going to bed the previous evening, or entering surgery two hours earlier. Finally, we would react to details of our world. Perhaps we talk out loud to other persons if they are present. We would then be awake in our normal waking state of mind.
Heidegger said that mood is each person's original and earliest state of Being in the world. Not simply primordial, mood is also omnipresent and always. Primordial mood does not cease. It is not intermittent or confined. We are in mood even when we are unaware of our mood. Since mood is a state of awareness, it is paradoxical that frequently we are unaware we are in mood (but so what?--life is paradoxical). Specific moods, such as well-being and anxiety, and specific emotions, such as happiness and anger, emerge out of the primordial mood. Primordial mood pre-exists them and is a necessary condition for them. We cannot have a reaction to something in the world until we are in the world in the first place. It is mood that discloses we are in our world, thereby setting the stage, so to speak, for our specific moods and emotions.
Specific moods are sea-changes in the ocean of primordial mood. Moods of fear, sadness, anger, anxiety, or joy, for instance, are like changes in the temperature, or density, or surface viscosity, or salt-content of the ocean. They are states of our state of mind. Specific moods prepare us to encounter objects of experience. The fearful state of mind sets us up to encounter something that frightens us. The anxious state of mind prepares us for an experience that shall be worrisome. These states of mind do not invent what we shall encounter in our experience. The fearful mood does not invent something to frighten us. It initiates the cognitive process whereby what is frightening in our world will be selected and attended as we move about our world.
From the point of view of brain neurology, moods manifest activities of the lower portions of the brain. These organs of the brain and their functions are products of our pre-human evolution. Moods pre-exist our higher cognitive processes because they are products of our evolutionary past that pre-existed the evolution of higher cognitive processes. Specific moods and flashes of emotion also manifest our prior experiences. We can only fear, be angry at, find pleasure in, for instance, elements of experience. We cannot literally fear the unknown. When we think we fear the unknown, in reality we only fear something from our past that we have projected onto the unknown.
For these reasons, then, the voice of mood is not the voice of reason. Since mood prevents us from rationally calculating our future interest, the voice of mood is, also, not the voice of the future. Mood pre-exists reason. Mood is the voice of the past, which explains the phenomenon of nostalgia that afflicts mood politics. The politics of mood are ultimately futile and fatal. We cannot really analyze, reason, or hypothecate when we are in mood. We can have no future when we are in mood. For mood, the future does not even exist. What exists for mood is only the tactile, textured world of proximate being, erupting in our world out of the present-in-passing and waiting like clamorous honking to be sounded by mood's horn.
- Heidegger on Mood
- Heidegger's Vicious Circle
- Broadening Heidegger's Concept of Mood
- Mood-States and Political Projects
- Kierkegaard's Theory of Anxiety
- The Distinction Between Primordial Mood and Psychological Mood
- Heidegger's Concept of Authenticity
- So What?
A table of contents is appended to each article.
(This series of articles is a revision of articles that I published elsewhere in 2003.)