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Displaced Feeling: A (Partial) Phenomenological Study

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This is a partial phenomenological study of a phenomenon that I call “displaced feeling”, which is best illustrated through a concrete example. I am overcome by a strong desire to stop writing. For one reason or another, I reject the possibility of pursuing this desire. Instead of giving up the desire altogether, however, I may “speak to myself” as follows: “I feel like having a coffee” and, the chatter goes on in the background “of course to make coffee means to stop writing”. I endorse the desire to get a cup of coffee. But the action through which I pursue this desire is coloured not by the feeling that anticipates the value associated with drinking coffee but by a feeling that anticipates the value associated with stopping writing. The latter feeling has displaced the former: I am in a state of displaced feeling. Here, I will elucidate two invariant structures of displaced feeling. First, I will show that displaced feeling involves the realisation of an endorsed state of affairs, the bringing about of a rejected state of affairs, and the belief that the former will determine the latter. Next, I will show that the endorsed state of affairs appears prominently as the end of an intention (or projection), that the rejected state of affairs appears inconspicuously in the horizon of the same intention, and that the belief appears twice: (1) as a motive for this intention and (2) as the “glue” that keeps its prominent and inconspicuous zones together.

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  1. I am using the phrase “pre-phenomenological understanding” to designate that which Husserl may describe as the understanding of a phenomenon from the natural attitude. See Husserl (2014, §1).

  2. Scheler (1973, p. 80) appears to have glimpsed the possibility of displaced feeling in the following passage: “Whenever we choose an end founded in a lower value, there must exist a deception of preferring. But this is not the place to discuss the possibility of such a deception.”

  3. Of course, to say this is not to say that the discoveries of other phenomenologists are irrelevant to the current study. Indeed, as the following investigations will show, a work of this kind could not even have been attempted without the conceptual machinery of Husserl and his “followers.” In particular, with its liberal use of such notions as “moment”, “abstraction”, “wholes”, “foundation” etc., the following investigations rely heavily on the theory of wholes and parts as articulated in Husserl (1970, Investigation III). Indeed, I would go as far as to say that Investigation III is indispensable for all serious phenomenological investigations, including those of Sein und Zeit, as is argued in Øverenget (1996). And, let’s not forget the description of this investigation as a “remarkable study” in Sartre (2004b, p. 64, fn 55f).

  4. I should say something more about values, states of affairs and their relation, ideas which I take over from Scheler (1973). A state of affairs is given in a presentation (such as a perception, judgment, imagination or thought), which can be understood as the “objective” apprehension of something. Thus, to use one of Scheler’s examples, through gustatory perception I perceive the bitterness of the lemon. Or, through reflection, I apprehend the action of having written this sentence. Both states of affairs may be associated with values, which are originally given in certain types of feelings and which must not be confused with the objective qualities given in presentations, with which they are associated. When I feel the agreeable quality of the bitterness or the disagreeableness of the action, I am feeling values. Thus, values are associated with states of affairs. For further analysis of these key phenomena, I encourage the reader to consult Scheler’s wonderful book.

  5. This corresponds to Heidegger’s (1967, §15) distinction between the totality of equipment, which constitutes readiness-to-hand, and the individual pieces of equipment.

  6. Here, for example, belongs Heidegger’s (1967, §27) analysis of the “They”. I would also include under “social determination” Sartre’s description of how a person may treat one’s possibilities as “possibilities of another who might find himself in the same situation” (Sartre 2003, p. 65). Also, while there are types of determination besides the social and physical, this is not the place to enumerate them.

  7. For an in-depth analysis of immediate and mediate foundation see Husserl (1970, Investigation III, §18).

  8. Phenomenologically speaking it is essential to distinguish two senses of “simultaneous”. On the one hand, the term can designate the co-presence of two phenomena across the extended present. Thus, one act of perception may persists in retention while another, distinct act, occurs in primal impression. On the other hand, “simultaneous” may designate the presence of two phenomena in primal impression, as when the perception of the tobacco arises simultaneously with the desire to smoke some. When I say that two projections cannot exist simultaneously, I am using the term in the second sense.

  9. There is another possibility: that the practical significance is present but covered up, and that it arises in the forms of “accidental happenings”, what Freud (1938) has called “erroneously carried-out actions”. But this cannot be what is going on here, for I never experience the action of being in the grocery store as “erroneously carried out”.

  10. On the extrinsic account, the belief is related to the intention in two ways. First, it motivates the belief. Second, it enters the relation of foundation with it, through which the two experiences found a new, higher-order phenomenon.

  11. For an analysis of wishing along these lines, see Scheler (1973, p. 40).

  12. For discussion of straightforward awareness see Husserl (1970, Investigation VI, §47).

  13. For a phenomenological study of empty and fulfilled intentions see Husserl (1970, Investigation VI, §14). The classical study of protentional and retentional awareness is Husserl (1991).

  14. Arguably, explicit awareness is always “filled out” to some degree, which means that the part of the object presented through this kind of awareness contains some degree of “fullness” or “intuitive substance”, as these terms are defined in Husserl (1970, Investigation VI, §23). But the converse is not the case: not everything that is filled out is explicit. For example, my implicit awareness of the books that surround my computer is not entirely empty; it contains some degree of fullness. The relation between attentional awareness and fullness is an important topic that requires deep phenomenological investigations. I would like to thank an anonymous referee for urging me to think about these issues.

  15. I would like to mention a further complexity here. In addition to the states of affairs that are given as going to happen if the end is realised, the inconspicuous zone also includes the possibilities that are opposed to the chosen possibility: the rejected possibilities against which the end is chosen. Sartre (2003, p. 55) captures this when he says “the possibility which I make my concrete possibility can appear as my possibility only by raising itself on the basis of the totality of the logical possibilities which the situation allows. But these rejected possibles in turn have no other being than their ‘sustained being’; it is I who sustain them in being”. The question of precisely how these rejected possibilities appear in the project, and how they relate to the other inconspicuous possibilities, is a difficult one and further phenomenological investigations are necessary to answer it.

  16. It seems to me that, in the context of projecting at least, the constitution of the surrounding, inconspicuous states of affairs is the job of (peculiar) kinds of empty protentions. This claim gives rise to a potential difficulty. Sartre (2004a, pp. 180–181 and 2003, pp. 50–71) has observed, correctly in my view, that only imaginative consciousness can present something as lacking, and that is a part of the reason why this intentionality is constitutive of projecting; I can only project that which I believe will not happen of its own course. Particularly, protentional awareness cannot fill this role—for this type of intentionality posits that which it gives as existing in the future. One may now wonder: if the imaginary intentionality does not partake in the constitution of the inconspicuous states of affairs, and if this job is assigned to protentional awareness, how can such states of affairs appear in the project at all? It seems to me that there is no difficulty; unlike the conspicuous possibility, the inconspicuous states of affairs are given as going to occur of their own course; specifically, these states of affairs are given as states of the world that will happen if the end is realised. In short, they are posited as having a future existence. To be aware of them is indeed to expect in that ubiquitous way that characterizes protentional awareness.

  17. This illuminates a way toward distinguishing these inconspicuous possibilities from the rejected possibilities mentioned in footnote 15. For the to-be-brought-about form does not interpenetrate the inconspicuous zone in which the rejected possibilities reside.

  18. Before moving on, it is also important to note, for the sake of future needs, a type of dynamism that pertains to the project in virtue of these zones. Without leaving the projecting attitude, within the inner structure of the project, it is possible that the prominent field shifts from one possibility to another—and this shift can go either from the end to one of the rejected or towards one of the surrounding, to-be-brought-about, possibilities. If such a shift should occur, new possibilities will arise in the inconspicuous field. (There are laws that govern these shifts. For example, every to-be-brought-about possibility has its own downstream of possibilities, which are further removed from the end, and hence more inconspicuous. So, if the field shifts to one of these possibilities, its downstream possibilities will be preserved as to-be-brought about and will become less inconspicuous). This can also be described as a type of conversion, in which a previously implicit possibility is made explicit. (This raises another interesting question: because these shifts occur within the very project, does it take away its fleeting nature? In other words, can one prolong the episode of projecting by engaging in such dynamisms?). These are important issues and should be pursued.

  19. It is a question here of relations that hold within the stream of consciousness.

  20. For further discussion of these mechanisms of sedimentation see Husserl (1970, Investigation V, §36).

  21. I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for pointing this out.

  22. I am ignoring the fantastical possibility of time travel.

  23. Scheler (1972, p. 40) writes that: “there is no part of our past life […] which might not still be altered […]”.

  24. This may be interpreted as the conversion of a “direct” into an “oblique” intention (Bentham 1823) only under the condition that these terms are taken to designate not independent and self-sufficient experiences but two non self-sufficient moments of the projection: explicit and implicit awareness respectively. I would like to thank an anonymous referee for raising this point.

  25. Compare this to Sartre’s (2003, p. 55) description of escaping anguish and responsibility, which involves the apprehension of “myself in relation to these possibles as a cause producing its effects. In this case the effect defined as my possibility would be strictly determined. But then it would cease to be possible; it would become simply ‘about to happen’”. The important question of how displaced feeling relates to and differs from the kinds of inauthenticity that appear in Sartre (2003) and Heidegger (1967) is a question that I hope to address in the near future.


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Copelj, E. Displaced Feeling: A (Partial) Phenomenological Study. Husserl Stud 32, 1–20 (2016).

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