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Affective intentionality and the feeling body


This text addresses a problem that is not sufficiently dealt with in most of the recent literature on emotion and feeling. The problem is a general underestimation of the extent to which affective intentionality is essentially bodily. Affective intentionality is the sui generis type of world-directedness that most affective states – most clearly the emotions – display. Many theorists of emotion overlook the extent to which intentional feelings are essentially bodily feelings. The important but quite often overlooked fact is that the bodily feelings in question are not the regularly treated, non-intentional bodily sensations (known from Jamesian accounts of emotion), but rather crucial carriers of world-directed intentionality. Consequently, most theories of human emotions and feelings recently advocated are deficient in terms of phenomenological adequacy. This text tries to make up for this deficit and develops a catalogue of five central features of intentional bodily feelings. In addition, Jesse Prinz’s embodied appraisal theory is criticized as an exemplary case of the misconstrual of the bodily nature of affective experience in naturalistic philosophy of mind.

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  1. 1.

    One noteworthy exception to this problematic trend is Matthew Ratcliffe (2002, 2005). Jesse Prinz (2004a) also sees the importance of intentional bodily feelings, but his account fails to adequately construe the experiential nature of human feelings in general. I will discuss both Ratcliffe’s and Prinz’s approaches below.

  2. 2.

    See Goldie (2000, ch. 3; 2002); Döring (2003, 2007) and Döring, manuscript in preparation; Helm (2001, 2002); Roberts (2003, pp. 65-83 and 151–155).

  3. 3.

    See Goldie (2002) for a defense of intentionalism about bodily feelings, and Crane (1998) for a defense of intentionlism about moods. Helm (2001, 2002) puts forward considerations that can be read as arguments for a general intentionalism about affective states in humans.

  4. 4.

    One possible explanation for this two way supervenience of intentional content and phenomenal character of affective states is that they are identical. The intentional content of an emotion would then be its phenomenal character. However, regardless of what ultimately explains this two way supervenience, it is of central importance to acknowledge that content and quality are inseparable in affective states.

  5. 5.

    Cf. Goldie, manuscript in preparation and Döring (2007). Both authors disagree, however, on the exact nature of emotional contents. While Döring puts forward a perception analogy (emotions as “affective perceptions”), Goldie claims instead that emotional contents are sui generis, i.e. unlike any other kind of mental content. His term for emotional contents which makes clear the unification of content and quality is ‘feeling towards’. Cf. Goldie (2000, ch. 3), and Goldie (2002).

  6. 6.

    In the way Helm makes use of the terms “pleasure” and “pain”, they share connotations with the German terms “Freud” and “Leid” and with “Gefallen” and “Missfallen”, respectively.

  7. 7.

    In less ideal cases, however, our emotions may incorporate action tendencies towards doing something that is completely inappropriate in a given situation as e.g. in baseless fear or undue anger.

  8. 8.

    On my use of the notions of “body schema” and “body image”, see “Affective intentionality” below – there, I say in what respects I share the views of Shaun Gallagher (2005) on that topic, and in what respects I diverge from Gallagher’s views.

  9. 9.

    See Ratcliffe (2005) for introducing the highly useful concept of existential feelings. What Ratcliffe subsumes under this label are general world-orientations that crucially structure human experience. Ratcliffe also calls them, echoing Heidegger’s discussion of attunement (“Befindlichkeit”), “ways of finding oneself in the world” (p. 45). As he stresses and as can also be gleaned from careful introspection, these background feelings are crucially bodily in nature (see also p. 47). Thus, they nicely fall into place as one key instance of the affective states that I am talking about in this paper.

  10. 10.

    The difference between the ‘felt’ and the ‘feeling’ body is introduced and discussed in “Felt body, feeling and lived body” below.

  11. 11.

    Besides perceptual states in the narrow sense, emotional content can also be instantiated in non-perceptual occurrent thoughts and imaginations. I claim that in these cases we find the same felt bodily dynamics as in case of perceptual emotions. Emotion theories like that of Goldie, Döring and Roberts are usually called “perceptual accounts” despite the fact that they include also certain non-perceptual mental occurrences.

  12. 12.

    For example, Ratcliffe (2005) suggests that the felt bodily dimension of what he calls “existential feelings” rather belongs to what Gallagher calls body image. I dispute this claim, although I am otherwise substantially in agreement with Ratcliffe’s excellent account of intentional background feelings. His paper was one of the main inspirations of my present account.

  13. 13.

    Thanks to David Chalmers for suggesting this way of putting the matter.

  14. 14.

    It is hard to translate this into English – word by word, it reads: “we feel it at our own body” – probably one could say, to render it semantically and grammatically correct: “we feel it with our own body”. But there is still the problem that there is no equivalent in English for the German word “Leib” (as distinguished from “Körper”, which is the usual translation for ‘body’). In the next section, I suggest the notion ‘lived body’ as the proper English equivalent to the term “Leib”.

  15. 15.

    This account of hedonic valence is in line with the anti-foundationalist conception of “felt evaluations” developed by Bennett Helm (cf. Helm 2001, esp. ch. 2 and 3; 2002).

  16. 16.

    Cf. Goldie’s thorough criticism of the add-on version of the component theory of emotions: Goldie 2000, 40-42.

  17. 17.

    Possible additions to the list include the dynamic process structure (many of these feelings show characteristic developments over time) and the social character of many instances of these feelings (as they tend to constitutively vary with social situations, and are quite often highly contagious).

  18. 18.

    See Crane (2001) for a general defence of ‘intentionalism’ in the philosophy of mind, with bodily sensations as ways of awareness of parts of one’s body. Goldie (2002) takes this up and applies it to the case of bodily feelings involved in emotions.

  19. 19.

    See, for example, Merleau-Ponty (1962).

  20. 20.

    Cf. Goldie (2000, 2002).

  21. 21.

    David Pugmire has written an extensive critique of Prinz’s embodied appraisal theory – I agree fully with the substance of his criticism, but I (obviously) see better prospects for integrating the bodily nature of affective experience into an account of emotional intentionality (cf. Pugmire 2006).


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Correspondence to Jan Slaby.

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Slaby, J. Affective intentionality and the feeling body. Phenom Cogn Sci 7, 429–444 (2008).

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  • Emotion
  • Feeling
  • Affective intentionality
  • Experience
  • Body