The model of feeling is not unitary. It has been endorsed in different versions among which there are points of convergence, but also intriguing disagreements and aspects which require further elucidation. In this section, I will examine the structure of VF and its main features by scrutinizing some claims about its nature which can be found in current research. In so doing, I will develop my own account of how to understand VF.
It seems a widely accepted claim among proponents of the model that VF is a specific mode of the experience of values. The arguments provided in Sect. 2 corroborate this thesis: though it is possible to know about values through other means (by testimony, applying rules, deduction, etc.), it is only through feeling that we apprehend and experience them.
Is VF founded upon other forms of consciousness or is a primordial form of intentionality not founded upon other states? Following Scheler (1973, 18), De Monticelli (2020, 275) and Steinbock (2014, 10) argue that VF is a primordial form of consciousness not founded upon other forms of consciousness. By contrast, inspired by Husserl, Drummond (2009) regards VF as founded. In particular, he argues that the feeling of value entails a moment that presents its object (in the broad sense) as having certain non-evaluative properties.
Though the Schelerian view is attractive, the Husserlian view has stronger argumentative force. My argument for the latter view can be derived from the ontology of evaluative properties (for this ontology, see Meinong 2020, 72). Value properties are higher-order properties which are founded on non-evaluative properties of an object. The beauty of a bouquet of flowers depends on some properties of the flowers (e.g., color, shape, etc., and their combination). If we change these non-evaluative properties of the flowers, the evaluative properties of the bouquet might change. The bouquet might stop being beautiful. It might even turn ugly. Similarly, the unfairness of a situation is founded on non-evaluative properties of the situation (e.g., actions of punishment, innocent person, etc.).
If this view of value properties is correct, then, the apprehension of values (as higher-order properties) presupposes the apprehension of the non-evaluative properties upon which they are based. Put otherwise, the originary consciousness of the value of an object (VF) presupposes other forms of consciousness of the object (perceiving, imagining, remembering, etc.). In order to feel the beauty of the bouquet, we have to perceive, imagine, remember, etc. the colors, shapes, etc. of the flowers. In order to feel the unfairness of a situation, we have first to perceive, imagine, remember, etc. the non-evaluative properties of the situation. In a nutshell, the feeling of the value of an object is based and depends on the consciousness of other properties of the object.
This order of foundation is logical rather than temporal, because these different forms of consciousness might be given together in experience. Moreover, they might imbue each other. My apprehension of the beauty of the bouquet is based on the perception of the flowers, their colors and forms, but at the same time the experience of beauty might penetrate how I come to perceive the bouquet, guiding my attention to certain features so that I perceive the bouquet more accurately and experience its beauty in an intensified form.
VF is not reducible to other forms of consciousness (e.g., perception, judgment, etc.). This claim is accepted by authors who regard VF as primordial as well as those who consider it to be founded on other states. Indeed, though for the latter VF presupposes other forms of consciousness of the object, it is not assimilable to them. According to the view for which I argued above, the feeling of the beauty of the bouquet and the feeling of the unfairness of a situation are not assimilable to the perception, imagining, remembering, etc. of the bouquet or the situation. The value of an object can be apprehended only through feeling. While the feeling is responsible for giving us the evaluative properties of the object, these other forms of consciousness present us the object and its features (color, shape, movement, form, etc.) in different modes (as present, not being there, as belonging to the past, etc.).
In the expression “feeling of value”, feeling indicates an achievement of the mind and is employed as a “success term”. What exactly is apprehended by VF? The content of VF is an evaluative property, but evaluative properties come in different kinds. “Thin” evaluative properties (e.g., good, bad) can be specified in different directions, while “thick” evaluative properties (e.g., dangerous, rude, beautiful) are specific ways of being good or bad.
De Monticelli, Engelsen, and Mulligan seem to assume that VF discloses “thick” values. Drummond offers a more nuanced account according to which affective experiences are constituted by distinct but not entirely separate moments. Bodily feelings are pleasant or painful states of the organism upon which intentional feelings and emotions are built. In this account, intentional feelings intend “thin” evaluative properties (e.g., unpleasant and unlikable), while emotions in a more determinate way intend “thick” values (e.g., dangerous). For Drummond, concepts such as danger can only be understood by referring to certain feelings of distress such as those we experience in the emotion of fear: “to understand the concept of ‘danger’ is to understand that the dangerous is apprehended as dangerous in fear; it is to say, in other words, that actually to experience danger is to experience a feeling of a particular kind of distress at the presence of a set of non-axiological properties that could cause my physical or psychological harm, the kind of distress we call ‘fear’” (Drummond 2009).
While agreeing with Drummond that affective experiences entail different moments and that the moment of feeling can be present while the emotion is missing, I have a reservation about his view. I do not see why evaluative concepts have to be explained by necessarily resorting to emotions. His model works well for the concept of danger which is clearly connected to the emotion of fear. However, it is less clear how it works with evaluative concepts such as banal, sublime, charming, etc., for which no specific emotion can be invoked. As a result, I am inclined to think that the richness of our evaluative concepts cannot be explained in terms of the limited number of human emotions. If the connection between thin evaluative concepts and emotions is weaker than Drummond suggests, perhaps the emotions play a less substantial role in our understanding of such concepts.
The question whether VF apprehends thick or thin values requires further elucidation. One possibility would be to further develop Drummond’s view taking into account the mentioned reservation about the strong tie between VF and the emotions. However, one could also regard the reservation as leaving the door open for the idea that VF might in fact disclose a wide variety of thick values, just as seeing and hearing might present a wide variety of objects.
Proponents of the model agree that VF is a form of intuition which involves an epistemic contact with reality. However, it has been scarcely investigated how to understand the specific kind of cognitive achievement. Engelsen (2018) describes it in terms of “knowledge of what-it-is-like”, while Mulligan argues that it is a form of “acquaintance” (2010). Both forms are non-propositional forms of knowledge, but one cannot be reduced to the other.
There are good reasons to accept the claim that VF’s cognitive achievement cannot be described in terms of acquiring propositional knowledge about values. To feel a value is not the same as knowing truths about it. We can have the experience of something being unfair and though this experience might lead us to propositional truths about the unfairness, the experience itself is not reducible to these truths. Inversely, we can acquire knowledge about a value without having experienced it. Even if we have never experienced unfairness, it is possible for us to know about it (by reading books, hearing the testimony of others, etc.) and apply this knowledge to judge certain situations as unfair. In short, to experience a value and to acquire propositional knowledge about it are two distinct kinds of cognitive achievement.
Is VF’s cognitive gain “knowledge of what-it-is-like”? Resorting to Jackson’s well-known thought experiment about Mary—who, despite knowing everything about colors, when she leaves the black and white room learns something new about them—Engelsen construes an analogous case for the feelings of values in which feeling is to value what vision is to experienced color (2018, 243). The truth of the analogy is that the experience of value adds something new to the propositional knowledge we have about it. However, we should not take the analogy with Mary at face value. Mary does experience colors for the first time when she leaves her black and white room, but she makes this experience on the basis of her previously acquired propositional knowledge which enables her to recognize and identify colors. An analogous scenario for Mary experiencing values is possible and, also in this case, she would experience values on the basis of her previously acquired propositional knowledge about them (for instance, when we learn about values via education, etc.). However, this is not always the case because VF can put us in contact with values even when we have no propositional knowledge about them.
If these considerations are right, we have good reason to follow the lead of Mulligan (2010, 486) in regarding the cognitive achievement of VF as acquaintance with values. There are three arguments for this view. First, this suggestion captures important features of VF: It implies an immediate contact with reality; it can be foundational for propositional knowledge; and it does not presuppose experience. Second, this acquaintance admits degrees of precision and clarity. The value of an object can be felt with more or less clarity, just as an object can be perceived with more or less clarity. Third, acquaintance requires the existence of favorable conditions such as having disconnected from possible sources of deception (the influence of others, inherited valuations, etc.).
Is VF a punctual episode or an enduring disposition? Mulligan, who is the only one to have posed this question, argues that VF is an episode of coming to be affectively acquainted with values which might mark the beginning of a state or disposition (2009). For him, an enduring affective acquaintance with values is possible. In Engelsen (2018, 240), it is suggested that VF is a mental episode distinct from the emotional states. To elucidate how VF occupies time, I will resort to a series of criteria which can be found in the ontology of mind and, in particular, in Mourelatos (1978, 423).
A first possibility to rule out is the category of states (this term is employed here in a specific sense). First, mental states exist over time, while VF has a minimal temporal duration. We can feel the rudeness or bravery of an action. We can feel these values repeatedly, but this feeling does not stretch over time. Second, while mental states have parts, VF, due to its minimal temporal extension, does not. Third, the parts that comprise states are usually heterogeneous, while VF is homogeneous. Fourth, states reflect a mental condition, while VF has the character of an activity of the mind (it need not be an activity realized intentionally, but activities are something that our mind does rather than something that happens to us).
Mental processes and mental developments can also be ruled out. Processes are activities made of parts which constitute a whole. For instance, reasoning is a process made of parts and in each of these parts we are reasoning. By contrast, VF is not made of parts and has a minimal temporal duration. Developments are accomplishments which have a duration, but unlike processes their parts are not homogeneous. An example of development is to conclude. To come to a conclusion is something that happens over a segment of time and it is made of parts, but its parts are inhomogeneous (the final part of coming to a conclusion in which we accomplish something is distinct from the beginning). By contrast, VF is homogeneous and does not stretch over time.
The most plausible way to interpret VF is as a punctual occurrence. Punctual occurrences are achievements which can be dated, but which occur in a single moment without stretching over time. The phenomenology of the feeling of value is closer to the phenomenology of other occurrences such as noticing and realizing which happen at a singular moment, rather than to extended processes or inhomogeneous developments. In addition, like other punctual occurrences, it indicates an achievement (VF makes us acquainted with values).
The last question concerns how to place VF within the powers of the human mind. Drummond describes VF in terms of being a form of reception and response toward values, while De Monticelli, Engelsen, and Mulligan describe intentional feelings as a form of receptivity toward values and distinguish this from the emotional responses (the distinction can be found already in the work of realist phenomenologists).
As argued in Sect. 3, the apprehension of values should be distinguished from the emotional responses. My proposal here is to use the terms “receptivity” and “responsivity” non-synonymously in order to reflect this distinction. Though I consider both to be forms of sensitivity toward values, the abilities required for one and the other are of a distinct nature. The former involves the ability to be open to the apprehension of values, while the latter requires us to be able to react appropriately toward these apprehended values (e.g., by having the right response, by responding with the appropriate intensity and duration, etc.).
The specific form of sensitivity exhibited by VF can be subjected to refinement and amelioration. It can also be exacerbated and deteriorated. It might be biased by affective states (e.g., moods such as euphoria or depression might influence the values we might apprehend) and by inherited or previously formed opinions and beliefs. On certain occasions, this sensitivity can be impaired. Phenomenologists employed the expression “value blindness” to refer to different forms in which this power might be lacking (Pfänder 1973b, 133; Scheler 1973, 193; von Hildebrand 1982, 44–55; Mulligan 2009). Just as one might be impaired from hearing and seeing, or tasting and smelling, and experiencing emotions, so one might be impaired in different forms and to varying degrees from feeling values. Moreover, VF is subject to individual variations. Persons differ in the degree of accuracy in which a value is felt. Even when two people apprehend the same values in an object, they do not apprehend the same value with the same fine-grainedness and detail. In addition, depending on one’s inclinations, some persons might be more prone to experience certain kinds of values (e.g., the aesthetic) and less so others (e.g., the religious). Finally, VF might be subject to historical, social, temporal, and cultural conditions (e.g., living in a certain epoch, society, etc. might make us more receptive to some values and less so to others).