Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 595–612 | Cite as

Depression as existential feeling or de-situatedness? Distinguishing structure from mode in psychopathology

  • Anthony Vincent Fernandez


In this paper I offer an alternative phenomenological account of depression as consisting of a degradation of the degree to which one is situated in and attuned to the world. This account contrasts with recent accounts of depression offered by Matthew Ratcliffe and others. Ratcliffe develops an account in which depression is understood in terms of deep moods, or existential feelings, such as guilt or hopelessness. Such moods are capable of limiting the kinds of significance and meaning that one can come across in the world. I argue that Ratcliffe’s account is unnecessarily constrained, making sense of the experience of depression by appealing only to changes in the mode of human existence. Drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s critique of traditional transcendental phenomenology, I show that many cases of severe psychiatric disorders are best understood as changes in the very structure of human existence, rather than changes in the mode of human existence. Working in this vein, I argue that we can make better sense of many first-person reports of the experience of depression by appealing to a loss or degradation of the degree to which one is situated in and attuned to the world, rather than attempting to make sense of depression as a particular mode of being situated and attuned. Finally, I argue that drawing distinctions between disorders of structure and mode will allow us to improve upon the currently heterogeneous categories of disorder offered in the DSM-5.


Phenomenology Psychiatry Depression Matthew Ratcliffe Maurice Merleau-Ponty Martin Heidegger 



I would like to thank James Goetsch and Nathan Andersen for their support of the original project that led to the writing of this paper. I would also like to thank Charles Guignon, Alex Levine, Giovanni Stanghellini, Steven Crowell, Christine Wieseler, Sarah Wieten, Brad Warfield, and Zac Purdue for their support of this project and comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Finally, I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their extensive and helpful comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of South FloridaTampaUSA

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